Curing cancer and eliminating future risks: Why Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold is the new weapon to fight cancer

A local hospital has a new weapon in the fight against cancer in that aims to cure you, and avoid affecting the rest of the body.

SAN ANTONIO – Cancer is a problem that many people face -- both across the country and here in San Antonio.

The Mays Cancer Center sees around 30,000 patients a year, with roughly 4,500 newly diagnosed cases.

A routine form of treatment is radiation therapy as it targets the cancer, but the fear is that the rays used to eliminate the cancer also can affect other parts of your body and hurt you down the road.

Now, a local hospital has a new weapon in the fight against cancer in that it aims to cure you, and avoid affecting the rest of the body.

“In recent years, what we found is that, you know, for those patients that get left side of breast cancer, they have an increased risk of cardiac toxicity, cardiac mortality. So we’re curing the breast cancer. But 10, 15, 20 years down the line, they’re developing coronary artery disease, and other forms of heart disease,” Dr. Timothy Wagner, radiation oncologist, at UT Health San Antonio said.

The problem is that radiation can hit other parts of your body and other key organs but now the surface imaging software that doctors at the Mays Cancer Center use provide Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold.

“Which is basically a technique that we use here unique to our facility here and at Mays Cancer Center that allows for heart sparing cardiac sparing for left sided breast cancer treatment,” Wagner said.

It might seem complicated, but it’s actually a basic concept.

“When the patients take a deep breath and they take a deep inspiration, their lungs expand, the diaphragm goes down and the heart pulls away. The heart pulls away from the breast. And so by doing that, we’re able then to safely deliver the radiation while pulling the heart away and sparing the heart from a radiation dose,” Wagner said.

This unique form of radiation therapy is based off of glasses. You put them on and you can actually tell you where your breathing should be.

“What she’s doing here is taking a deep inspiration and she’s holding her breath within a green box, as long as she’s keeping her breath within that green box. The heart is pulled away from the breast and we can deliver treatments safely,” Wagner said.

And don’t worry, whenever you aren’t in the “safe zone” there are precautions in place.

“When she exhales, now the beam turns off and we’re able to stop treatment while she breathes normally for a period of time,” Wagner said. The technique isn’t just for left sided breast cancer patients, it is now being used to fight pediatric cancer and sarcoma patients.

New cancer treatment image. (KSAT)

About the Author:

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.