NHS Highland has carried out a new treatment for patients with breast cancer for the first time this week.

Helen Homer from Beauly has undergone deep inspiration breath hold radiotherapy (DIBH) treatment at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

This uses an advanced surface guidance system called “AlignRT” for monitoring position during treatment, with Raigmore Hospital being the only centre in Scotland using this.

This method involves the patient holding their breath for around 20 to 25 seconds during radiotherapy treatment to the chest area. This helps to reduce the risk of long-term heart damage following exposure to radiation.

NHS Highland’s superintendent radiographer Vicky Doughty, who led this development, said: “Because of the risk of damage to the heart following radiotherapy, we have worked extensively with the multi-disciplinary team to make improvements to our technique.

“By asking the patients to breathe in during planning and treatment, the heart and other major blood vessels move away from the area being treated, thus offering protection.

“For breast cancer patients that are having their left breast or chest wall treated, there is a small risk of having a heart attack or other coronary event in the long term. It is now best practice to offer DIBH to those patients who are eligible and therefore reduce the risks.”

Patients are screened and coached prior to undergoing DIBH treatment and those that are able to hold their breath comfortably for that period of time are offered the treatment.

Helen Homer said: “It was rather a surprise to learn I had cancer, and worse to know the treatment might damage my heart. I love to keep fit and walk the hills; I still have 57 Munros to bag!

“I am very thankful to all at Raigmore Hospital who have treated me, but especially the radiotherapy team who have made huge efforts to bring this new technique to Highland, to help people like me. I feel very privileged.”

Photograph from NHS Highland Website: Helen Homer, centre with glasses, is joined by the radiotherapy team at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.