Many women and men with breast cancer undergo radiation therapy to reduce the risk that the cancer will return. However, even though radiation kills cancer cells, it also can harm healthy tissue near the tumor.
When you breathe, your chest expands and contracts. With each inhale and exhale, the radiation target may shift position. This means breathing can affect the accuracy of your radiation treatments.
To minimize this movement, some Mercy locations offer a device called an Active Breathing Coordinator (ABC). The ABC is a small device that looks like a snorkel. It consists of a mouth piece, a tube containing special valves, and a nose clamp. It allows you to take (and hold) a deep breath, which eliminates movement. While you are holding your breath, radiation is delivered to the treatment area.
A deep breath can increase the distance between the radiation target and your heart. This may decrease the risk of radiation reaching your heart.
The ABC is self-controlled. If you need to take a breath during radiation delivery, you simply press a button with your thumb. This “turns off” the radiation and opens a valve in your device, so you can breathe normally again.
If your doctor recommends you use the ABC, you’ll have a chance to become familiar with it before beginning your radiation treatments. During one or more planning sessions, you’ll have time to ask questions and practice holding your breath with the device.
If you have additional questions or concerns about the Active Breathing Coordinator, don’t hesitate to talk to a member of your Mercy care team.