Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Cancer

Sunday, September 01, 2013 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Is there a role for oxygen therapy in cancer? Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy really help people with cancer who are experiencing radiation necrosis?

You’ve heard the stories. A person diagnosed with cancer underwent radiotherapy. His condition improved, but a few weeks later, his tumor seems to appear worse. A quick checkup with his oncologist reveals that he is suffering from late onset radiation-related injury.

radiation injury
Tangential realization: Radiation-related injury can be hard to treat, unlike the injury my Dungeon Hunter character gets when he gets hit by this Tier 100 sword. Health can be a matter of life and death – it’s not a game.

The treatment options for cancer can be quite potent that they effectively kill cancer cells and normal tissues. Radiation therapy can help keep cancer in check, but it may also result in injury once in a while.

Clarification: You’re probably thinking of the oxygen therapy offered in health spas, but that’s not the same. Hyperbaric treatment requires a special pressurized chamber that delivers oxygen under pressure.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Radiation Injury in Cancer

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which is basically oxygen delivered under pressure, can help treat delayed radiation injury. To achieve an increase in pressure, a person undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy needs to be in an enclosed space where atmospheric pressure can be controlled, such as a hyperbaric chamber.

Only a few hospitals have pressure chambers for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Hospitals offering pressure chambers for decompression sickness, which you can get from deep-sea diving, are the ones who can offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Hyperbaric oxygen can be used to alleviate the symptoms of many conditions. A couple of the most popular indications are stated below.

  • Recalcitrant osteomyelitis may benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. If a bone infection doesn’t improve even after prudent antibiotic therapy, hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a treatment option.
  • Radiation necrosis is also known to benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Cancer patients who have undergone radiation therapy may experience radiation injury. As radiation kills tissues, necrosis occurs, causing a whole new set of problems.

Does Hyperbaric Therapy Work?

It depends on the indication and on several other factors, but yes, oxygen delivered under pressure can help treat radiation necrosis and many other conditions. Below are some of the published evidence supporting its use.

  • In a 2012 update on hyperbaric oxygen therapy use, the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy before radiation therapy is discussed, especially in patients who are at considerable risk for radiation necrosis. This paper also discusses how almost all studies on hyperbaric treatment consistently point to its effectiveness in delayed radiation injury.
  • A person who underwent brain radiation therapy because of a nervous system lymphoma experienced radiation necrosis in his brain. Steroids were given but were ineffective. The patient refused to have the necrotic focus surgically removed, so he was advised hyperbaric oxygen therapy. His symptoms were alleviated and his tests showed lesion improvement.

If you experience any symptoms related to your tumor after radiation therapy, consult your doctor. If he offers hyperbaric oxygen treatment for radiation injury, ask about the benefits and the side effects. Be pro-active in making decisions; don’t hesitate to ask your physician for more information. After all, he is your ally in health.

Feel free to share this article with friends who are undergoing radiation therapy by clicking on the Facebook button above. They may not know what radiation injury and hyperbaric therapy are, but with your help, they will learn about it.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!