New breast cancer treatment technique on offer at Colchester General Hospital

Veronique Mackay, pictured with Keir Williamson, specialist breast therapeutic radiographer, who, a

Veronique Mackay, pictured with Keir Williamson, specialist breast therapeutic radiographer, who, along with her colleagues, implemented DIPH at Colchester General Hospital. In the background are radiographers and radiotherapy physics staff. On the far right is Dr Mukesh, consultant oncologist. - Credit: Archant

Breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy at Colchester General Hospital will be the first in Essex to be treated with a new technique.

Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH) is being introduced in a bid to minimise the risk of radiation damage to the heart during treatment.

Colchester hospital is the first in the county to provide the technique, which is suitable for patients with cancer in their left breast and whose heart sits particularly close behind it.

DIBH involves the patient holding their breath for about 20 seconds at a time during radiotherapy, while special software automatically stops the radiation machine when the patient breathes out.

The first patient to benefit from the technique in Colchester was Veronique Mackay, 49, who has just completed a three-week course of radiotherapy at the £25m state-of-the-art radiotherapy centre at Colchester General Hospital which opened in June last year.


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Part-time estate agent Mrs Mackay, of Ransom Road, Tiptree, was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in July.

She said: ““I feel lucky and privileged I was the first person to try out the new technique in Colchester.

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“At first I found it difficult to hold my breath for 20 seconds and found it quite stressful but I got better after the radiographers helped me to practice.

“I haven’t got words to say how amazing the team have been.”

The deep breaths can push the heart away from the area being treated.

Dr Mukesh, a consultant oncologist at Colchester General Hospital who helped to introduce the new technique, said: “Radiation given during radiotherapy kills cancerous tissue but it can also harm healthy tissue, which is why it is essential it is targeted as precisely as possible.

“Studies show there is a small risk of the heart being damaged when radiotherapy is given to patients treated for cancer in the left breast.

“Potentially, this can result in coronary artery disease later in life and while the risk is small, the Deep Inspiration Breath Hold technique reduces this risk even further.”

Dr Mukesh stressed DIBH was not suitable or necessary for all patients.

Radiographers communicate with the patient using an intercom system during the treatment, and it is usually possible to give the radiotherapy in only one or two breath-holds.

The treatment procedure overall takes about 10-15 minutes.

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