What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an alternative treatment for many types of illnesses or injuries. It takes place inside a sealed chamber that is pressurized up to three times the normal atmospheric pressure. While lying down inside the pressurized chamber, pure oxygen is pumped inside. As you breath in the pure oxygen, it is believed the body is able to heal more quickly and relieve pain.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is primarily used for decompression sickness, which is a common problem for deep water divers. It is also effective for treating severe carbon monoxide poisoning and treating certain types of wounds. Treating cancer with hyperbaric oxygen treatments can be useful in certain circumstances.
Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy a Treatment Option for Cancer?
Treating cancer with hyperbaric oxygen treatments won’t reduce the size of the tumor or kill cancer cells. Despite this, there is a good reason to include hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a comprehensive cancer treatment plan. A common side effect of cancer radiation therapy is soft tissue damage and bone deterioration. In severe cases, the bone tissue dies. This can lead to several symptoms including pain, bleeding, ulceration and disability.
One way to treat soft tissue and bone damage resulting from radiation treatments is to use hyperbaric oxygen therapy. By breathing the pure oxygen in the pressurized chamber, the blood oxygen concentration increases. The damage tissue is soaked with oxygen, which facilitates healing.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Treat Radiation Injuries?
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments stimulate angiogenesis at the site of radiation injuries. Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels from nearby vessels. The increased oxygen supply causes existing blood vessels to sprout new vessels. This increases the supply of blood and nutrients to the injured area. Fibroblast and collagen formation are expected as well. The increased oxygen supply also leads to neovascularization, which is the development of microvascular networks. Together, these two types of vascular developments lead to tissue repair. Clinical studies have shown that irradiated tissue treated with hyperbaric oxygen treatments have retained normal oxygen levels years after treatment.
Side Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Entering a hyperbaric oxygen chamber may be a bit harrowing for some individuals. Claustrophobia, fatigue and headaches are some of the side effects of this type of therapy. The increased pressure within the chamber can lead to more serious complications. Some may experience vision problems, specifically short-sightedness, that last for a few weeks after a session. Damage to the sinus, middle ear and lungs may result as well. The increased oxygen concentration can lead to oxygen toxicity, which manifests as seizures. Fluid may accumulate in the lungs and respiratory failure may occur.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy isn’t recommended for individuals with congestive heart failure. Those with lung disease may experience a collapsed lung during a session. Pregnant women should avoid the therapy as well.
1. “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.” American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy
2. “Treatment of Gastrointestinal Radiation Injury With Hyperbaric Oxygen.” Virginia Mason Medical Center. https://www.virginiamason.org/workfiles/hyperbarics/2007_Radiation_Enteritis.pdf
3. “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Radiation Necrosis.” Oncolink. https://www.oncolink.org/treatment/article.cfm?c=5&s=33&id=51