Safely prolonging single breath-holds to >5 min in patients with cancer; feasibility and applications for radiotherapy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Andrea M Stevens
  • Sophia Parveen
  • Rebecca Stephens


Objective: Multiple, short and deep inspiratory breath-holds with air of approximately 20 s are now used in radiotherapy to reduce the influence of ventilatory motion and damage to healthy tissue. There may be further clinical advantages in delivering each treatment session in only one single, prolonged breath-hold. We have previously developed techniques enabling healthy subjects to breath-hold for 7 min. Here, we demonstrate their successful application in patients with cancer. Methods: 15 patients aged 37–74 years undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer were trained to breath-hold safely with pre-oxygenation and mechanically induced hypocapnia under simulated radiotherapy treatment conditions. Results: The mean breath-hold duration was 5.3 ± 0.2 min. At breakpoint, all patients were normocapnic and normoxic [mean end-tidal partial pressure of carbon dioxide was 36 ± 1 standard error millimetre of mercury, (mmHg) and mean oxygen saturation was 100 ± 0 standard error %]. None were distressed, nor had gasping, dizziness or disturbed breathing in the post-breath-hold period. Mean blood pressure had risen significantly from 125 ± 3 to 166 ± 4 mmHg at breakpoint (without heart rate falling), but normalized within approximately 20 s of the breakpoint. During breath-holding, the mean linear anteroposterior displacement slope of the L breast marker was <2 mm min−1. Conclusion: Patients with cancer can be trained to breath-hold safely and under simulated radiotherapy treatment conditions for longer than the typical beam-on time of a single fraction. We discuss the important applications of this technique for radiotherapy. Advances in knowledge: We demonstrate for the first time a technique enabling patients with cancer to deliver safely a single prolonged breath-hold of >5 min (10 times longer than currently used in radiotherapy practice), under simulated radiotherapy treatment conditions.


Original languageEnglish
Article number20160194
JournalBritish Journal of Radiology
Issue number1063
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2016