Post Cancer Treatment and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

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By Richard W. King, Jr., MD

Radiation therapy has advanced greatly in the past 30 years and now is a highly targeted, effective treatment for prostate, breast and head/neck cancers, just to name a few. However, some patients experience complications that can significantly affect their quality of life. Pain, inflammation and persistent sores or wounds may be experienced in the area treated. Additionally, all patients who are considering any surgical procedure in an irradiated area should be aware that slower healing time and complications are not uncommon.

Radiation’s Effects on Healthy Tissue

Many of these complications are due to radiation’s effects on healthy tissue. While radiation is targeted to the cancerous region, tissue surrounding the cancer is unavoidably exposed, a phenomenon known as scatter. As a result, arteries in the healthy tissue constrict and growth of new blood vessels slows, leading to less oxygen and blood flow in the exposed area. The effects of radiation exposure to healthy tissue are permanent and can progress over time.

For patients who are particularly sensitive to radiation exposure, tissues with reduced oxygen and blood flow can break down, resulting in scarring, ulceration and bleeding. For any patient who has undergone radiation therapy, surgery performed in an exposed area may be at risk for a longer healing time because of the tissue damage.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Shows Positive Results

Medical researchers and practitioners worldwide now recognize hyperbaric oxygen therapy (also known as HBO2 therapy) as an effective treatment for radiation complications. HBO2 therapy is a medical treatment in which patients receive high concentrations of oxygen under pressure in order to rapidly increase the oxygen level in the blood and tissues.

The concentrated oxygen is given to patients inside a pressurized vessel, known as a hyperbaric chamber. In this environment, oxygen works as a drug to heal damaged tissue and non-healing wounds.

Studies demonstrate that patients treated for radiation injuries with HBO2therapy benefit from accelerated healing, decreased pain and improved quality of life. The infusion of oxygen helps eliminate pain and inflammation. Additionally, complications from surgical procedures — particularly healing time — are greatly reduced.

Proven Medical Treatment

Hyperbaric medicine has been in practice for centuries and is most recognized for its use in the diving industry for decompression sickness. The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in mainstream medicine began in the military, and today it is used to treat a variety of conditions, including non-healing diabetic wounds, carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries and delayed radiation injuries.

Cancer survivors who are experiencing any post-radiation side effects, or who are planning a surgical procedure — such as breast reconstruction, tooth removal or rectal biopsy — should discuss undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy with their physician or contact a nearby hyperbaric oxygen treatment facility to discuss potential benefits for treatment of their condition

Dr. Richard W. King, Jr., is medical director of HyOx Medical Treatment Center, a rehabilitative medical facility serving the Southeast that provides more than 2,500 hyperbaric oxygen treatments annually. For more information on hyperbaric oxygen therapy’s ability to heal radiation damage and treat other conditions, please contact Dr. King at 678-303-3200 or by E-mail.