An innovative breathing technique is being used on breast cancer patients during radiation treatment to help prevent long-term damage to the heart.Breast cancer is one of the leading cancers affecting women in South Africa, followed by cervical, colorectal, uterine, and lung cancer. Radiation treatment, although life-saving in treating cancer, often causes damage to healthy cells near the area being treated. This can cause damage to the heart and lungs, especially in left-sided breast cancer patients.Life Hilton Hospital senior radiologist Natalie Clarke said their oncology centre, which opened a year ago, started offering the deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH) technique in October last year after training its staff in Belgium.Patients take a deep breath and hold it in during treatment while the radiation is delivered. As the patient’s lungs fill with air, their heart moves away from the chest, and away from the radiation beam targeting the cancer cells.Life Hilton Hospital is currently the only hospital in the Midlands and greater Durban area offering the technique.Clarke said not all radiation machines were compatible with the technique and that it is used specifically for patients with breast cancer in their left breast.An infrared camera attached to the wall in front of the machine, works with a six-dot marker block.The block is placed on the patient’s lower chest and the camera uses the block as a reference point for movement.The radiation is only released once the patient has taken a deep breath and has reached the correct breathing cycle.If the patient exhales or coughs, the treatment will stop immediately until the patient has breathed in deeply again.Clarke said the treatment was not for everyone as some people did not have the same lung capacity as others and could either not inhale deeply enough to move the heart away from the chest, or could not hold their breath.She said patients were required to hold their breath for around 20 seconds.Clarke said that with new techniques and technology, patients were being diagnosed earlier and were living longer.She said it was important to not just focus on treating the cancer, but to also be mindful of the long-term effects the radiation therapy could have on organs.Clarke said that the unit is putting together a breast cancer support group for patients and their families. She said patients interested in the group can contact the hospital on 033 3295820.