This article is about the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) Therapy for people with cancer. HBO has been known about for many years and the techniques have regularly been used in treating deep-sea divers for the ‘bends’. However, with increasing frequence, hyperbaric therapy is being used to treat a number of severe side effects of some conventional cancer treatments.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a treatment which essentially involves providing the body with extra oxygen. The word 'Hyper' means 'increased' and 'Baric' refers to pressure. As we all know, Oxygen is one of the gases in the air that we breathe and is essential for life. The air that we breathe normally contains 21% oxygen. Breathing in 100% oxygen under increased pressure within a hyperbaric chamber allows extra oxygen to be forced into the blood stream and dissolved at a much faster rate than if pressure was not used. Another effect is the increased oxygen transport capacity of the blood. Under atmospheric pressure, oxygen transport is limited by the oxygen binding capacity of hemoglobin in red blood cells, which almost reaches saturation at atmospheric pressure, very little oxygen being transported by plasma. However Oxygen transport by plasma is significantly increased under HBO therapy.This extra oxygen can help where healing is retarded due to infection or limited blood supply through tissue damage.
Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy:
- HBO facilitates the growth of new blood vessels, enabling the transport of additional blood;
- HBO augments the body's natural defence mechanisms to fight infection and kill bacteria;
- HBO helps reduce any swelling that may occur around an area subjected to radiotherapy.
The treatment is normally painfree and is carried out in specially-designed chambers known as "hyperbaric chambers". There are two basic types of chamber: monoplace chambers and a multiplace chambers.
A monoplace hyperbaric chamber for treating one person at a time and involves the patient lying on a padded stretcher that is then slid into a clear plastic chamber about 2ft in width. Once inside, the door is closed and the chamber is pressurised.
Multiplace hyperbaric chambers can treat several people at a time. The multiplace chamber is the type most frequently used. These chambers are big enough to accommodate sometimes as many as a dozen patients at a time and it is possible to walk into them. Patients either sit on benches or lie inside these chambers. 100% pure oxygen is administered via either a mask or a clear plastic hood. HBO sessions usually last from one to three hours depending on the nature of the treatment program. Treatment sessions within the hyperbaric chamber are normally repeated over several days or even weeks.
HBO therapy is increasingly being used for helping patients who have been subjected to conventional radiotherapy treatment for cancer and are now suffering the after-effects. A major problem with radiotherapy is that, since it not only kills cancer cells but also nearby healthy cells at the same time, it can cause changes in the oxygen supply to tissues in the treated area, since less blood is supplied to the area. The result is that it becomes more difficult oxygen and essential nutrients to reach the tissues. Over a period of time these tissues can become very fragile, break down and ulcerate. Sometimes tissue can even completely die (radiation necrosis).
- Chronic lymphoedema in breast cancer;
- Chronic radiation cystitis;
- Pelvic cancer;
- Bowel cancer;
- Prostate cancer;
- Chronic radiation proctitis;
- Acute blood loss anemia
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