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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Rectal Cancer

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: lrohner • updated: 2/28/2011

Rectal cancer and hyperbaric oxygen therapy could be useful in specific cases where the patient suffers from severe effects of radiotherapy. It involves supply of extra doses of oxygen into the blood stream to help repair the tissues damaged due to radiation.

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    Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Rectal Cancer

    Rectal cancer and hyperbaric oxygen therapy effectiveness has been a subject matter of medical research and clinical trials in recent years. At present, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, also known as HBO therapy or simply HOT, is considered as an experimental treatment option. This treatment may be exercised when the standard treatments have failed to relieve the severe adverse effects of radiation therapy for rectal cancer.

    The aim of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is to supply the body with extra doses of oxygen. Pure oxygen is provided to the patient in a special chamber called the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The patient is seated in the chamber and provided with a mask to assist him to breathe an increased supply of oxygen. The therapy is designed to benefit patients who suffer from various dysfunctions that may arise as a long-term side effect of radical rectal or pelvic radiotherapy.

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    Rectal Cancer and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: How it Works

    When the patient breathes in 100 percent pure oxygen under “hyper" or increased pressure, it helps the extra supply of oxygen to be circulated by the blood stream and dissolved in the blood at a much quicker rate. In absence of extra pressure, the rate of dissolution of oxygen in the blood would be much slower. The purpose of this extra dose of oxygen in the body is to cause faster healing in areas that have suffered damage due to the cancer. It also helps to grow new blood vessels and improve blood supply to the healthy tissue that got damaged due to radiation.

    The tissues which have been receiving poor blood supply after exposure to radiation may begin to crack up and develop open sores. Some healthy tissues may also die completely, which is called radiation necrosis. HBO therapy can help to improve blood supply to such infected or damaged tissues and help to heal them faster. Over a period of time, this therapy may also help to enhance the body’s immune system and make it more resistant to infections. Specifically for pelvic and bowel cancers, HBO therapy can address the symptoms of bleeding, pain and irregular bowels that may have resulted from the exposure of sensitive rectum skin to radiation.

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    Potential Side Effects of HBO Therapy

    Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally considered to be a fairly safe treatment with minimal side effects that do not last for long. One of the common side effects may be blurred vision, which can occur after the patient has received multiple therapies, although this condition may not last for more than a few weeks after the therapy has ended. A temporary feeling of light-headedness may occur in some patients immediately after the therapy session. Some patients may complain of tiredness and fatigue for a few days. This effect usually occurs if the patient has received more than one treatment in a single day.

    One of the rare side effects of the therapy may be damage to the ear drum, which may result from the change in air pressure. Prior to the therapy, the patient should be guided how to equalize the pressure in both ears in order to avoid this problem. Patients who may be suffering from a previous condition of sinuses may complain of facial pain or headache after the therapy. Decongestant medication may be used prior to the therapy session for such patients to avoid this condition.