Researchers at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute at Ohio State University have developed a new type of treatment board for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
This new radiation board allows a patient to lie face down on his or her stomach in the prone position rather than face up in the supine position. Incredibly, one of the primary components of this board is a typical bean bag, which is used for support as it ergonomically conforms to the patient’s body.
The prone radiation board was developed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Julia White of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. The 21-story James Cancer Hospital was recently renovated so that it fully integrates clinical cancer care with innovations developed at the adjoining Solove Research Institute. Research and education rooms are located on each floor, and customized care is a top priority at James Cancer Hospital, which is the third-largest cancer hospital in the United States.
Dr. Julia White is a leading member of the Department of Radiation Oncology at James Cancer Hospital. She is a respected professor at Ohio State University, the vice chair of clinical research at the hospital and the director of breast radiation oncology at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. Also, she was a program director for the American Cancer Society from 1995 to 2001 and has published more than 15 peer-reviewed studies.
The prone radiation board with bean-bag assistance for the support of breast cancer patients is the result of Dr. White’s latest study. Traditional treatment boards require patients to lie on their backs in the supine position. But this modified board allows them to rest comfortably on their stomachs, which causes breast tissue to hang away from the chest wall as they undergo radiation therapy.
Lying in this position provides doctors with an opportunity to more effectively target cancer while avoiding healthy tissue around the heart and lungs. Although some situations exist that mandate patients lie on their backs, small amounts of healthy heart and lung tissue may become damaged during treatment.
“The prone board allows gravity to pull the breast away from the chest wall and create a more uniform shape that we can distribute the dose of radiation through evenly,” explained Dr. White. “With this board, we can keep the radiation in front of the ribs, so we don’t even need to go into the thoracic cavity and skim the lung and heart.”
Patients do not lie directly on the radiation board. Lying directly on the board would be uncomfortable and do very little to put them in the proper position for treatment. Instead, beanbags are attached to the board to provide comfort and support. As a patient shifts his or her weight onto the bean bag, it responds by adjusting its shape to the natural contours of the body. A vacuum is then used to pull the air out of the bag so that it holds its shape and keeps the patient stationary.
The traditional method of providing radiation therapy to breast cancer patients has been associated with several long-term side effects. It can irreversibly affect the shape of the breasts, which is the reason cosmetic surgery with a favourable outcome is achieved in only 60 per cent to 70 per cent of patients undergoing radiation therapy.
“By turning a woman over onto her stomach, we can treat the breast underneath the board and reduce the risk of the treatment leaving permanent effects,” White said. “We found that we can have a good rate of a good cosmetic outcome in 80 to 90 per cent of the women who go through this treatment.”
The new board may also alleviate the risks that patients with a family history of heart disease and lung disease face during radiation treatment. “Both my parents passed away from heart attacks. So, having that history of heart disease, my primary concern was the radiation affecting my heart,” said Kim Doran, a breast cancer patient from New Albany, Ohio. “It made me feel 100 per cent better to know that that’s the procedure I needed to have.”
Bean bags have been used in the medical field for decades, and they currently play several key roles. They are often used to position patients during surgery and are recommended for pregnant women to help alleviate stress on the body during the third trimester. Also, bean bags are instrumental in a variety of physical therapy programs.