Breast cancer patients are to be offered lifesaving radiotherapy while lying on their front for the first time, in an attempt to protect them from damage to the heart and lungs.
The technique, known as prone radiation and common practice in the US, is helpful for women with larger breasts who are harder to treat in the traditional position lying on their back.
When patients receive radiotherapy – a powerful form of X-ray radiation which destroys cancer cells – to their left breast, the heart is also at risk of receiving radiation, due to its location on that side of the chest.
When patients receive radiotherapy to their left breast, the heart is also at risk of receiving radiation, due to its location on that side of the chest
This can damage the heart muscle, causing a condition called cardiotoxicity, and can lead to symptoms and complications one to two years after treatment. Chemotherapy also increases the risk.
Such radiotherapy also raises the risk of death from cardiac-related causes such as pericarditis – swelling around the heart that causes chest pain, coronary artery disease, heart attack or heart rhythm problems.
Treatments that shield or reduce the heart from radiation are vital now that breast cancer patients are living longer.
Javeria Iqbal, senior breast radiographer at the Royal Free Hospital, London, is one of a team at the hospital leading the new technique.
She says: ‘When delivering radiotherapy, it is important that the whole breast receives the radiation, but that other parts of the body are affected as little as possible.’
One commonly used technique in patients with cancer in their