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Putting the patient first: breast cancer treatment advancements to help put women’s minds at ease

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in women, and although it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in females, more and more women are successfully overcoming this disease. 

This success is due not only to advancements in screening and detecting tumors early, but to improvements in breast cancer treatment.

One such treatment is the use of radiation therapy after breast surgery.1   

Radiation therapy as a follow-up treatment to surgery is well-documented as beneficial. In the past, radiation did carry a risk of damage to organs near the breast(s) undergoing treatment, such as the heart and lungs. With advancements in technology and techniques, healthcare providers are now more accurately able to target the cancerous areas and minimize the amount of radiation these critical organs are exposed to.2,3  

Deep inspiration breath hold

Some women who receive radiation for the left breast may have concerns about unintentional radiation reaching the heart. A technique called deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH) utilized during daily treatments decreases the potential radiation dose, providing better protection to the heart and peace of mind. 

During a deep breath, the heart and the chest wall naturally moves away from the chest wall from each other. With DIBH, you are instructed to hold your breath at certain moments or may be offered a device to help control your breathing while radiation is administered to move the heart further away from the breast.  

Tattoos during breast cancer radiation therapy

In many instances, the placement of permanent markings, or tattoos, on the body help healthcare professionals track and precisely deliver radiation to the same area at each session. 

However, as these markings are permanent, they often served as a constant reminder to the cancer survivor of what they had been through.

Studies investigating the emotional impact of these tattoos on women found that:

  • 70% felt negatively about this change to their body5
  • 78% would have chosen a tattoo-less option if given the choice5
  • Women would have travelled an average additional 45 miles to be treated at a clinic using a tattoo-less technique5
  • Tattoos induced a feeling of disempowerment6
  • Tattoos were seen as a permanent reminder of the enormity of their illness.6

Overall, most women undergoing breast cancer radiation therapy involving permanent tattoos do not view these markings favorably. 

Fortunately, with technological advancements more radiation oncology practices are able to offer tattoo-less alternatives. 

As proper body positioning is important to ensure radiation therapy is delivered to the right areas, studies have looked at the accuracy of tattoo-less positioning alternatives. One such technique is known as surface imaging, which uses multiple cameras to scan the 3D surface of the patient’s body.

Not only has this technique been shown to improve safety and comfort without compromising the accuracy of radiation therapy, but it also does not require the use of permanent markings on the body.

This option of tattoo-less treatments can provide a sense of control and dignity for women on their breast cancer journey.

In summary

Breast cancer is not something any woman wants to be diagnosed with. However, women can feel assured that radiation technologies and techniques have made treatments much more tolerable, both physically and emotionally. 

References

  1. Nardin S, et al. Front Oncol.2020;10:864 [https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fonc.2020.00864/full]
  2. Latty D, et al. J Med Radiat Sci. 2015;62(1):74-81.[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4364809/]
  3. Bergom C, et al. Front Oncol. 2018;8. [https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fonc.2018.00087/full]
  4. Stanley DN, et al. J Appl Clin Med Phys. 2017;18(6):58-61 [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5689923/#acm212183-bib-0005]
  5. VisionRT. Breast Journal publishes impact of tattoos on radiation therapy patients. 2019. Available at: https://www.visionrt.com/the-breast-journal-publishes-impact-of-tattoos-on-radiation-therapy-patients/. (Accessed June 2022).
  6. Probst H, et al. Radiography (Lond). 2021;27(2):352-359.[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8063584/]
  7. Freislederer P, et al. Radiat Oncol.2020;15:187. [https://ro-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13014-020-01629-w]
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