Delayed Radiation Tissue Injuries
Conditions may result from radiation therapy affecting normal, non-cancerous cells including blood vessel, muscle, and nerve cells. Much of the oxygen content in the radiated tissue is lost, making it difficult for the wounds to heal.
Soft Tissue and Bony Necrosis
While radiation therapy kills cancerous cells, sometimes normal cells are affected. Over time, the cells in the radiated tissue lose much of their oxygen content causing scarring, increased risk of infection, ulceration, bone necrosis, and poor wound healing of accidental or surgical wounds from breast reconstruction or dental work. Abnormal radiated tissue can cause other health conditions like fistulas (abnormal tracts or openings) in the body. Common conditions include radiation induced cystitis (inflamed bladder) and proctitis (inflammation of the rectum lining).
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to grow new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and fibroblasts (cells that promote healing by producing collagen) to bring about radiated tissue wound healing.
A side effect from cancer treatment is bone cell damage, called osteoradionecrosis. The condition also affects the blood cells supplying the bone. The areas of the body most commonly damaged are the lower jaw (mandible), the chest wall, pelvis, vertebral column, and skull. Wounds to the damaged bone fail to heal because of hypoxia (inadequate supply of oxygen).
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to reverse the damage to the bone through tissue oxygenation.
Patients who undergo radiation therapy sometimes experience complications long after the treatment. Soft tissue radionecrosis, especially of the head and neck, was studied by R.E. Marx, DDS. Dr. Marx found hyperbaric oxygen therapy to be useful “prior to surgery to create well-vascularized tissue that would subsequently heal and accept bone grafts.” The research, conducted at Wilford Hall Medical Center of the U.S. Air Force in San Antonio, Texas, has set the treatment protocols for HyOx.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to heal the soft tissue by promoting angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels into a tissue involving the development of new capillary blood vessels, in the injured areas. This allows for improved oxygenation and nutrition.
Head and Neck Cancers (prophylactic pre- and post-treatment for patients undergoing dental surgery of a radiated jaw)
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is growing in its usage in treating radiation injury. It’s delivered prior to dental extractions from heavily irradiated mandibles (jaws) and additional treatments are administered post-surgery to help support tissue metabolic demands in the healing process. The most common post-surgical hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment is for maxillofacial osteoradionecrosis and osteomyelitis, which results in damage to the jawbone and tissues due to radiotherapy for cancer in the head and neck. The treatment also has shown to support dental implants in radiated tissues.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to prevent radiation injury when the likelihood of complications from surgery is very high. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides a better healing environment and can also lead to growth of many new blood vessels (revascularization) around injured tissue, which can affect limb extremities.