Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center
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Heart Safety for Breast Cancer Patients


Thursday November 21, 2013 at 2:57 PM


“We’ve made even more advances since this study began in 2005,” says K.S. Clifford Chao, MD, Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Columbia. “Investigators note that women at risk for cardiovascular problems received radiation for their left breast while lying on their backs. Today our patients can lie on their stomachs with their breast suspended downward. Radiation is then targeted at the affected area with no beams directed toward the heart.”

There are other significant advances patients should be aware of as well.

With newer, more sophisticated imaging systems, radiation oncologists can now account for changes in the patient’s anatomy, tumor size, weight, and internal motion, as well as changes in tumor biology and function. This approach, called Adaptive Radiotherapy (ART) enables physicians to create a highly personalized treatment plan for every patient, while also limiting the amount of radiation exposure within the treatment field.

A novel imaging technology called “CTVision,” also helps to reduce radiation to critical body structures. The CT scanner pivots around the patient, taking a series of pictures that pinpoint the exact location to receive radiation therapy.

In addition, patients can benefit from these innovative procedures:

  • Partial breast irradiation. This allows physicians to hone in on the actual field of cancer, delivering a larger dose directly to the affected site.
  • A technique called hypofractionation allows physicians to give patients higher doses of radiation in fewer treatments, thereby limiting the number of exposures.
  • Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT). This limits the radiation patients receive to a single highly-targeted dose and is used on women with early stage breast cancer who are undergoing lumpectomy. In IORT, physicians apply radiation to an area of the breast during surgery. “Research shows this is as effective as whole breast radiation for patients with early disease,” says Sheldon Feldman, MD, director of Breast Surgery at Columbia. Watch NBC and ABC news reports on this therapy here and here.

Together, all these approaches help ensure the cardiovascular health of breast cancer survivors.

For more information on special care for breast cancer patients with underlying cardiac risk, see our article, Treating Cardiovascular Disease in Breast Cancer Patients