Doctors make treatment more effective for breast cancer patients simply by modifying the table a woman lies upon, and by turning her onto her stomach
“Traditionally, women who undergo radiation therapy lie on their backs, and while that approach can be very effective, there’s a slight chance of radiation damage to healthy heart and lung tissue. It’s also been associated with long-term problems in the shape of the affected breast,” says a report from the Comprehensive Cancer Center of The Ohio State University.
In the October 2014 article, Dr. Julia White of the OSU James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute said, “By turning a woman over onto her stomach, we can treat the breast underneath the board and virtually eliminate those concerns. We’ve developed a modified treatment board that minimizes the exposure of heart and lung tissue and is leading to better outcomes overall.”
Dr. White and the OSU team demonstrate a fine example of innovative, prophylactic thinking, as opposed to constantly turning to pharmaceticals for therapies after the fact. Drugs like the recently approved Neupogen can certainly play a role in treating radiation-related adverse effects and injuries, but they come with their own sets of potential adverse effects. Much preferable are preventive measures like this clever treatment board.
Unlike the old-standard supine position, “the prone board allows gravity to pull the breast away from the chest wall, and create a more uniform shape that we can distribute the dose of radiation through evenly,” said White, Director of Breast Radiation Oncology at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. “With this board, we can keep the radiation in front of the ribs, so we don’t even need to go into the thoracic cavity and skim the lung and heart.”
The OSU article also explains that “each patient uses a bean bag or ‘vac bag’ that is customized to their shape and used to immobilize their arms during the treatment. Additionally, the modified board is able to extend off the treatment table, giving the radiation beam space to make a full rotation around the patient.”
This provides benefits beyond the medical results. “Traditional radiation therapy has been associated with long-term problems in the shape of the affected breast, with good cosmetic outcomes found in only 60-to-70 percent of cases,” according to the OSU report.
“[When we] treat the breast underneath the board we reduce the risk of the treatment leaving permanent effects,” said White. “We found that we are able to have a really good rate of a good cosmetic outcome in 80-to-90 percent of the women who go through this treatment.”
White says that the women who take advantage of the prone-position breast board are typically women who caught their breast cancer early, who’ve opted to have a lumpectomy and hope to preserve as much of the breast tissue and shape of the original breast as possible.
Recent studies show prone radiation therapy cuts the amount of lung and heart tissue affected by radiation therapy by 90 percent.