Patient Information

Radiotherapy leaflets

Radiotherapy Departments
Colchester Hospital
Tel: 01206 745 055

Ipswich Hospital
Tel: 01473 704 289


Deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH) technique for radiotherapy

Controlled breathing for radiotherapy treatment.

What is deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH)?

This is a technique where you take a breath in and hold it for up to 20 seconds at a time for your radiotherapy planning and treatment.

How does DIBH help?

Taking a deep breath inflates your lungs and can potentially move your heart away from the chest wall and the treatment area. If it is a suitable technique for you, we will ask you to hold your breath during the CT planning scan and during each of your radiotherapy sessions.

What happens if I cannot hold my breath?

This technique is not suitable for everyone, for example:

  • some people will not be comfortable holding their breath
  • some people may not be able to do it for the required length of time
  • some people may have other health conditions that will affect their lungs

How can I prepare for breath hold?

Lie comfortably on your back with hands supported behind your head.

Practise slow, controlled, deep breaths.

When this feels comfortable take a deep breath in and hold it for 5 seconds then breathe out.

Follow these steps again, increasing your hold times to 10 seconds, then 15 seconds, then 20 seconds.

Repeat this about 6 times.

It is important to only take as big a breath as you can comfortably hold. This might be slightly less than a full breath in. The more you can practice, the easier you will find this.

The RESPIRE breath-hold training website has short videos to help you prepare for your breath-hold treatment. You may find it useful to visit this site before coming for your radiotherapy appointments, but do not worry if you are not able to do this.

The RESPIRE Breath Hold Training website (Opens in a new window)

What happens during my radiotherapy planning CT scan with breath hold?

When you attend for your CT planning scan, the radiographers will run through the process and do some practice breaths with you.

A small light plastic box will be placed on your abdomen.

A special camera monitors how this box moves when you breathe.

Sometimes a video screen may be used to help guide you with your breathing.

The CT scan procedure takes about 15 to 20 minutes and we will ask you to hold your breath a few times for approximately 20 seconds.

The radiographers will speak to you though an intercom and tell you when to hold your breath and when to release it.

You will be holding your breath for up to 20 seconds at a time.

The radiographers will discuss with you if the technique is helpful for you.

Are there any alternatives?

If the procedure is not helpful for you, or you find the process difficult, you can have radiotherapy while breathing normally. Your heart will still be shielded from the radiation beam by the treatment machine.

What happens during my radiotherapy treatment with deep inspiration breath-hold?

It may help you to start taking some practice deep breaths before going into the treatment room.

The radiographers will let you know through an intercom system when to take a deep breath in and to hold it. The treatment machine will only give the treatment when you are holding your breath.

Once you are in breath-hold, the treatment will be delivered.

If you breathe out during the treatment, the machine will turn off.

Please be reassured that you cannot be treated incorrectly.

Usually, it is possible to give the radiotherapy in 4 to 8 ‘breath-holds’.

The radiographers will monitor you the whole time. They can see and hear you and will help guide you through the procedure, which lasts 15 to 30 minutes.

Contact information – Ipswich Hospital

Rachel Laker, Breast Consultant Radiographer 01473 704 958
Lisa Mann, Macmillan Specialist Radiographer 01473 704 361
Radiotherapy reception 01473 704 289

Contact information – Colchester Hospital

Keir Williamson, Breast Consultant Radiographer 01206 745 022
Nicole Bayly and Hayley Griffiths, Specialist Breast Radiographers 01206 745 043

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