By Jeff Rickert, M.D.
Board Certified, Internal Medicine
Director, Hyperbaric Oxygen Department, Princeton Baptist Medical Center
Many patients receiving treatment for various types of cancer undergo radiation therapy either alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy. Although the benefits of radiation therapy are widely known, one potential side effect is Delayed Radiation Injury to hard or soft tissues of the body. This unfortunate side effect can have a significant impact on the quality of life for the brave patients battling cancer.
Symptoms of injury to irradiated tissues can occur at any point after exposure -- sometimes years after radiation therapy is finished. Delayed Radiation Injury is usually seen at least six months after therapy is complete and can involve both soft tissues, such as the lining of the bladder or intestines, or hard tissues like bone.
The causes of Delayed Radiation Injury result from the release of inflammatory substances after exposure to radiation. These inflammatory markers, called cytokines, are involved in the formation of fibrosis, scar tissue, and damage to small blood vessels that supply oxygen to tissues. This results in compromised delivery of oxygen, or hypoxia, to these vital tissues which can lead to chronic inflammation, bleeding, ulcer formation, delayed healing and even severe infection.
A disruption in the normal framework of these blood vessels and local cell structure can cause severe tissue inflammation seen in proctitis (with colorectal cancers), cystitis (with bladder cancer), and bone necrosis (especially in those patients with oral cancer and radiation to the neck or jaw). With radiation injury to the jaw, patients often experience loss of teeth or require tooth extraction due to extensive bone damage.
For patients suffering from Delayed Radiation Injury, Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy has been shown to provide significant benefit in tissue healing. Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy involves breathing 100% oxygen under pressure which dramatically increases the amount of oxygen circulating in our blood, thus improving oxygen delivery to damaged bone or soft tissues.
Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy has been used in Delayed Radiation Injury since the 1980s. This treatment has been shown to (a) enhance new blood vessel growth into the irradiated areas (b) improve the local tissue framework that was previously damaged to promote healing and (c) reduce fibrosis and scarring.
As one of only two Hyperbaric Oxygen departments in Alabama with accreditation by the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS), the Princeton Baptist Hyperbaric Oxygen Department has broad experience in treating these types of Delayed Radiation Injuries. This accreditation demonstrates a commitment to patient care and facility safety by meeting benchmarks of excellence & adherence to the standards of care set forth by the UHMS.
For more information, please contact the Princeton Baptist Hyperbaric Oxygen & Wound Care Center at (205) 783-3727.