New Technology at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Fights Breast Cancer While Protecting the Heart

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A new cancer treatment offered at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center is helping to protect patients' hearts from the effects of radiation therapy. Called AlignRT, the radiation therapy guidance system provides additional accuracy to ensure radiation treatment is precise and protects surrounding tissues from radiation exposure.

The system captures a 3-D image of the patient's body, allowing radiation therapists to more accurately position a patient for treatment. This helps minimize surrounding healthy tissue from radiation exposure. This technology ensures that a patient is in the exact same position for each treatment. If there is any movement of the body, it is immediately detected and the radiation beam shuts off automatically.

Radiation is a very effective treatment for breast cancer. However, since the left breast is very close to the heart, it may get exposed to radiation, which can lead to serious long-term cardiac complications.

"With AlignRT, we work hard to make sure that the radiation treatment our patients need today doesn’t affect their hearts tomorrow," says Alam Nisar M. Syed, M.D., medical director, Radiation Oncology Center, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center.

A technique called “Deep Inspiration Breath Hold” (DIBH) is used to keep the heart away from the breast during therapy. Achieving this, however, can be challenging as patients breathe in different ways at different times, and may arch their back to simulate a deep breath in. These different movements can appear similar to a patient's true breath hold, but do not necessarily separate the heart from the breast.

Using three cameras to monitor thousands of points on the patient’s skin, AlignRT can detect any motion as the patient holds their breath — side to side, up and down, forward and back and more — with sub-millimeter accuracy. So if the patient moves out of position, the radiation beam is automatically turned off.

While the technology is significant for patients with cancer in the left breast, it also is beneficial for other types of cancers, including brain, lung and prostate. 

AlignRT is just the latest addition to the robust radiation therapy options offered at Thomas & Dorothy Leavey Radiation Oncology Center, part of the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center.

“Our multi-disciplinary team works together to develop treatment plans that best meet the needs of each patient based on their cancer type and stage,” says Dr. Syed. “At Long Beach Medical Center, we diagnose approximately one woman each day with breast cancer. We’re excited to now offer these women a solution for left breast cancer radiation therapy that has been demonstrated to reduce heart and lung radiation damage.”

While AlignRT will significantly reduce the effects of radiation therapy to the heart, Long Beach Medical Center also has implemented a survivorship plan for patients with chest radiation.

The plan was designed to inform patients of the potential risks to the heart, educate and provide a screening plan for their primary care physician and specialty physicians, as well as ensure that patients receive the necessary exams, so that if heart disease develops it can be diagnosed early.