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Treating Breast Cancer While Protecting the Heart

Publication: AARP The Magazine

Texas Center for Proton Therapy is at the forefront of radiation therapy that reduces cardiac risks

In breast cancer treatment, radiation oncologists increasingly aim to protect the heart from unnecessary radiation, and Dallas/Ft. Worth-based Texas Center for Proton Therapy finds its high-end technology well positioned for the trend.

The move toward avoiding exposing cardiac tissue to radiation is an evolution in care that can make a significant difference in women’s heart health later in life, explains Jared Sturgeon, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncologist at Texas Center for Proton Therapy. “Excess radiation can damage several critical areas of the heart, which can lead to a higher risk of coronary artery disease, including myocardial infarction and heart failure,” he says.

With the most advanced proton therapy in the state, the Center provides an excellent option for protecting women’s hearts, Dr. Sturgeon says. “Our technology is especially suited to concentrating treatment on the target tissue and avoiding the heart and lungs,” he says. “Proton therapy uses a focused beam only a few millimeters wide to precisely ‘paint’ the target with therapeutic proton radiation, minimizing damage to healthy surrounding tissue.”

In fact, proton therapy consistently demonstrates the lowest average dose to the heart in treatments of the breast, the chest wall and nearby lymph nodes, according to a major study by University of Oxford researchers published in the November 2015 International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics.

Advanced targeting technology is also crucial for avoiding needless irradiation of the heart at Texas Center for Proton Therapy. “With its pinpoint accuracy, our proton beam treats tumors layer by layer, in three dimensions,” Dr. Sturgeon says. “With our advanced technology, we can also ensure that the proton beam doesn’t exit the body through tissue that shouldn’t be exposed to radiation.”

Additionally, the Center’s cone-beam CT image guidance system provides clinicians a three-dimensional view of a patient’s anatomy, allowing them to develop a tailored approach. Using the CT imaging scans, the Center’s physicists, dosimetrists (who calculate radiation doses) and radiation oncologists program the proton beam equipment to deliver the optimal dose to each target tissue, even if it’s irregularly shaped.

While the field of oncology continues shaving down cardiac risks related to breast cancer treatment, Texas Center for Proton Therapy plans to keep getting the most out of its considerable technology and expertise. “We’re dedicated to providing our patients the best possible treatment for their immediate needs and for years to come,” Dr. Sturgeon says.

This article originally appeared in AARP The Magazine.

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