By Dr. Mallika Marshall

CLEVELAND (CBS) — For women battling breast cancer, treatment can sometimes harm their hearts. Now a Cleveland hospital is using a technique to protect patients.

Joyce McCain’s breast cancer was picked up in a routine mammogram earlier this year. The 65-year-old considered her active lifestyle and decided a lumpectomy with radiation was the right treatment for her. Then doctors explained there could be side effects for the heart.

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Joyce McCain (WBZ-TV)

“That gave me something else to start worrying about,” McCain said.

Joyce’s cancer was in her left breast, so radiation to treat the cancer could also expose her heart to incidental radiation – and that could lead to heart disease.

“More commonly we worry about long-term side effects of the heart and that can include, for example, increased risk of coronary heart disease and subsequent heart attacks,” Dr. Chirag Shah of the Cleveland Clinic said.

Dr. Shah told Joyce about a technique they’re using that protects the heart from radiation while still delivering treatment effectively.

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A new technique is being used to protect women’s hearts during breast cancer treatment (WBZ-TV)

Patients wear a snorkel-like device during radiation. They take a deep breath and hold it; increasing the distance between the heart and the area getting the radiation.

“As the breast and the chest lift up during the inspiration, the heart stays where it is. So we’re able to treat the breast and chest while limiting the dose to the heart,” the doctor adds.

How radiation affects the heart with and without the new treatment (WBZ-TV)

It’s something Joyce is grateful for. She needed 15 rounds of radiation.

“I feel good. I really do. I keep trying to do my exercises. I’m trying to eat the way I’m supposed to eat. I try not to dwell on it. I’m trying to keep it positive,” McCain said.

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The Cleveland clinic says using this active breathing technique is cutting radiation doses to the heart by 50 percent or more for patients in most cases.

Dr. Mallika Marshall