Radiation injury is the damage to tissues caused due to exposure to high energy ionizing radiation, typically during treatment of other medical condition(s). Radiation treatment is a procedure in which the patient’s body part is exposed to high energy electromagnetic waves that can strip electrons from the atoms they hit, consequently changing their nature and structure.
When a human body part is exposed to such a radiation, the cells that are directly in the path of radiation are destroyed completely whereas the ones around it are damaged to a little (sometimes to a greater) extent that changes their nature and may even turn them cancerous. Changes to these cells alter the functioning of organs they make up leading to different conditions. Usually such changes show up after several months and may be years after exposure and most of the times, the patient will not be able to connect the cause of the condition to radiation therapy he/she had in the past. The tissues that are injured or damaged due to radiation may break down completely over time if not treated on time.
“Treatment of such tissues damaged due to radiation therapy can safely and effectively be performed by Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy”
Treating radiation injuries with HBOT
Depending on the area (of the body) exposed, the organs around it are at risk of getting injured or damaged. Even though the technology has advanced a lot wherein the precision of application of radiation has improved a lot, there still exists a big risk of undergoing radiation therapy.
- Radiation cystitis or proctitis. When treating bladder cancer or prostate cancer, if the tissues around them are damaged, that can lead to radiation cystitis (bladder) or proctitis (prostate). Symptoms of these conditions include pain and burning sensation while peeing and sometimes, the person may see blood in urine.
- Radiation tissue injury after mastectomy. Mastectomy is the surgery performed to remove the breast tissue. Typically this is done when the breast tissue has developed cancer tumors. Once the removal is done, doctors advise the patient to undergo radiation therapy in order to make sure that if the left over (if any) cancer cells are destroyed and don’t return. When the tissues around the breast are damaged during mastectomy, they do not receive enough blood supply and as a result open sores on the chest may develop which are harder to heal.
- Dental or jaw bone problems after head and neck treatment for cancer. Radiation exposure to treat cancer in the head or neck can damage salivary glands. As mentioned, when the tissues (in any part of the body) are damaged, that can result in lower blood supply. Lowered supply to the jaws, skin and muscles in the mouth can make swallowing difficult. They may even be not able to turn their neck.
- Bowel problems or bleeding after cancer treatment for colon. After treating bowel cancer with radiation, diarrhoea, incontinence, rectal bleeding are found to be common symptoms. This happens as the muscles in the pelvic region are destroyed.
- Changes in behaviour or personality after treating brain cancer. If the brain cells are destroyed along with the cancerous ones while treating brain cancer with radiation, that can result in change of personality, memory, language changes depending on the location of the brain treated.
A study done in 2013 titled “Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment in Radiation-Induced Cystitis and Proctitis: A Prospective Cohort Study on Patient-Perceived Quality of Recovery” has concluded that HBOT can be an effective and safe treatment to treat the conditions acquired after radiation therapy in the pelvic region. As per the same study, symptoms were alleviated in 76% of the patients who had radiation cystitis and in 89% of the patients suffering from radiation proctitis and in 88% of the patients with combined cystitis and proctitis. Interestingly, the symptoms didn’t return even after 12 months after receiving oxygen therapy.
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
In a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the pressure is maintained at 2 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure and the patient is made to breath near 100% medical grade oxygen. As a result, more oxygen flows into every tissue and muscle of the body including those that are deprived of oxygen. Flow of oxygen to damaged or injured tissues is important to heal, generate new blood vessels and to fight any possible infections. As more oxygen flows, new blood vessels are formed that can improve the blood circulation in the area. As the tissues are repaired naturally, the symptoms go away after few sessions of HBOT.
Note that the results due to HBOT treatment will not be visible until after 12 or 15 sessions. As the process of blood vessel generation and growth of new tissues take time, one must be patient enough to wait for positive changes to happen. Typically, one round of HBOT treatment may last for 40 to 60 sessions.