New radiotherapy technology to benefit breast cancer patients

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) are using new equipment to help breast cancer patients focus on their breathing during radiotherapy.

The new visual coaching device monitors a patient’s breathing with a small box placed upon their chest, which picks up their breathing pattern and displays a ‘bar’ moving up and down in time with their breathing. The display includes a target area to aim for whilst their breath is held, when the lungs are expanded and the chest wall is stabilised.

Rachel Laker, consultant breast radiographer, Ipswich Hospital, said: “Prior to the [visual coaching device] we could only coach patients over the intercom. They couldn’t see anything to help them judge how big a breath to take. This gives patients some control over their treatment…. it also helps us because we are getting that consistency for their treatment too.”

Dale Fowler, radiotherapy treatment specialist, added: “Patients are in control of their breath hold for the duration of their appointment. The treatment stops when they need to breathe out and restarts once they hold their breath again. This process continues until all the treatment has been given.

“We help patients practise their breathing and use an intercom system to support them and give instructions throughout.

“There are different ways doses of radiotherapy to the heart can be reduced. Breath hold is just one which may be helpful to our patients. If this method isn’t comfortable for them though, we can go ahead with another way of minimising the dose to the heart.”

For now, the device is being solely used for breast cancer patients, but ESNEFT will explore other uses at other hospitals in the future.