Breathe In, Protect Your Heart: The Simple Trick for Safer Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast cancer treatment often involves radiation therapy, especially following surgery. Radiation therapy is common for women diagnosed with breast cancer; however, for those whose cancer is located in the left breast, there is a higher risk of developing heart disease. Oncologists find it challenging to deliver doses of radiation to the cancerous area without exposing the heart to levels capable of causing damage to the tissue itself. The solution? A simple yet effective breathing trick that has been scientifically proven to lower the risk.

The Breathing Trick to Shield Your Heart

The well-known Valsalva maneuver is often used to pop the ears or help with a blocked nose. During cancer treatment, too, this breathing technique can make a significant difference. According to the researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, holding your breath while receiving radiation pulses protects your cardiovascular system.

Harriet Eldredge-Hindy, M.D., a researcher with Jefferson’s Department of Radiation Oncology, states, “We wanted to determine how effective breath-hold could be in shielding the heart from extraneous radiation exposure during treatment of the left breast.”

In an eight-year study, the benefits of cardiovascular health linked to not breathing during radiation treatment were actively tracked. The overall survival rate over the eight years was 96%, while 90% of participants remained totally disease-free. Measurements revealed that holding the breath reduced the radiation dosage reaching the heart by an average of 62%.

Rani Anne, another researcher involved in the study, confirms, “Given that this technique helps to shield the heart during radiation treatment for breast cancer, we routinely offer breast cancer treatment with the breath-hold technique at Jefferson.”

What This Means for Women Receiving Radiation Treatment

The Valsalva maneuver involves taking a deep breath and holding it in, then trying to exhale with a closed mouth and nostrils. This causes pressure to build up in the chest, steadying the heart, and ultimately providing what’s known as “forceful strain.”

In radiation therapy, the breath-hold technique can help women reduce the impact of treatment on their cardiovascular systems. During treatment sessions, the woman takes a deep breath and holds it in. Meanwhile, radiation is administered in short bursts during the breath-hold, which helps to minimize any exposure to the heart.

To further optimize the benefits of this breathing technique for women receiving radiation treatment, it’s vital to practice and implement the Valsalva maneuver correctly.

How to Perform the Valsalva Maneuver

Follow these simple steps to perform the Valsalva maneuver:

  1. Sit down comfortably and relax your body.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose and fill your lungs as much as possible.
  3. Close your mouth and pinch your nostrils shut.
  4. Try to exhale forcefully against your closed mouth and nostrils, while keeping your chest and abdominal muscles engaged.
  5. Hold the pressure for 10-15 seconds, then release and exhale gently.

If you’re unsure about the technique or require additional guidance, consult your treating oncologist or nurse for assistance.

Additional Tips for Heart Health During Radiation Therapy

In addition to the breath-hold technique, these practices can help protect heart health during radiation therapy:

  1. Follow a healthy diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and minimal amounts of saturated fat and processed sugars.
  2. Engage in regular exercise, as recommended by your health practitioner, to maintain a healthy weight and promote cardiovascular health.
  3. Manage stress by adopting mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, or seeking support from a therapist or support group.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption and refrain from smoking to minimize the risk factors associated with heart disease.

By incorporating these habits into your overall cancer treatment regimen, you’ll provide your body with the best possible chance of recovery and long-term health.

In conclusion, holding your breath during the administration of radiation therapy for left-sided breast cancer can significantly lower the risk of developing heart disease. It’s essential to discuss this breathing technique and any other relevant health concerns with your treating oncologist to ensure that you receive the best possible care. Engaging in activities and following routines that promote a healthy lifestyle will also increase your chances of a successful recovery and long-lasting well-being.