New weapon against breast cancer protects heart from radiation

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CLEVELAND– Halloween of last year, Sarah Panfil of Brunswick receiving the biggest scare of her life.

“I was getting ready for bed and found it out of nowhere, found a hard lump on my left breast,” Panfil said.

The health conscious and athletic 38-year-old was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. She underwent a single mastectomy, then four rounds of chemotherapy.

Traditionally, radiation therapy would follow. But director of breast radiation oncology at the Cleveland Clinic Dr. Chirag Shah said that can expose patients to other dangers, particularly to the heart.

“When women have breast cancer, particularly on the left side, that radiation therapy can give some dose to the heart, which sits right underneath the left breast and left chest. And we’ve learned over time that radiation can cause complications to the heart, including an increased risk of heart attacks or other heart complications,” Shag said.

But now, a new treatment called heart-sparing radiation therapy, is helping to cut down the risks.

“This is a combination of multiple techniques, including breathing techniques, where the patient breathes in, which lifts the breast and chest away from the heart, with radiation delivered when that separation occurs,” Shah said.

It also includes using different types of radiation together to deliver less doses to the heart and lungs.

“The opportunity to have that to minimize my heart impact was huge,” Panfil said.

Panfil is now cancer free and this year, looking forward to celebrating Halloween with her husband and 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

“I feel very fortunate.”

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