For GPs

An Inspirational Way To Treat Cancer

11 Dec 2017

Breast cancer patients may soon receive even more precise and potentially life-saving radiation therapy thanks to a unique program being developed.

A/Prof Joerg Lehmann, Principal Medical Physics Specialist at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Calvary Mater, Newcastle, has received $405,000 from the Federal Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council Funding program,  to fund a new system helping administer Deep Inspiration Breath Hold Therapy (DIBH).

The program, which is aimed at helping left sided breast cancer patients, will help ensure the correct positioning of the patient undergoing treatment and the accuracy of the radiation beam used to treat their cancer during DIBH.

A/Prof Joerg Lehmann believes the system can be easily adapted to current treatment machines and will also reduce the risk of heart disease among patients by limiting the exposure of the heart to radiation, could have significant benefits.

“In radiation treatment you have two issues – the right dose and the right location,” he said. “One is as important as the other.

“The correct patient positioning is critical in radiation therapy – both before but especially during treatment.

“I’m excited and humbled to have received this funding and to carry out this work.”

Joerg Lehmann is aiming to spread the word about DIBH as a treatment for cancer patients.


As well as breast cancer, DIBH can also be used to treat lymphomas in the chest region and other chest or upper abdomen tumours and involves the patient holding their breath for 20 seconds during treatment.

By taking a deep breath in, the patient’s lungs fill with air and their heart moves away from the chest while the radiation beam is targeting their cancerous area.

Radiation will therefore be moved away from the heart, the position of which varies from person to person.

The novel part of this research program is that it will allow the treatment to be guided by ‘live’ images of the patient’s internal anatomy rather than external markers placed on the patient’s chest. These images will be created using the treatment beam, meaning that there will be no additional radiation to the patient from the imaging procedure.

A/Prof Lehmann, a Conjoint Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle who devised the idea after seeing a similar approach used for prostate cancer patients, said the system will help limit exposure of the patient’s heart to potentially harmful radiation.

“Side effects are a big concern for breast cancer patients,” he said.

“Several studies have shown that radiation exposure to the heart can increase the risk of heart disease for the patient proportional to the amount of radiation received.  It is up to us as practitioners to make sure that our treatment is as accurate as possible.

“Most manufacturers could also adopt this system on their machines. It’s possible to adopt it easily and doesn’t add any extra hardware cost.”

A/Prof Lehmann also said current methods for helping administer DIBH often involved additional devices and sometimes discomfort for patients, including clamping their noses while controlling their breathing.

The system, which will now be developed and researched further over the next three years together with collaborators locally as well as in Sydney and Melbourne, is the latest achievement by A/Prof Lehmann.

A holder of adjunct appointments as Associate Professor with the University of Sydney and RMIT University, as well as his position at Newcastle, his distinguished career includes pioneering work in areas including Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT), Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and Intravascular Radiotherapy (IVRT).

“Working in the health sector, it’s a very rewarding feeling to see you are helping people on a daily basis,” A/Prof Lehmann said.

“I have seen other people have exciting and life-changing ideas but being able to contribute myself in this way is fantastic.”

For more information on Deep Inspiration Breath Hold treatment, click here.

For more information on radiation therapy for breast cancer treatment, click here.