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Post Radiation Healing Complications

Radiation therapy is commonly used in the treatment of cancer and has cured or extended the lives of untold numbers of cancer survivors. Radiation can have an adverse effect on normal tissue. It most commonly causes inflammation of the tiny capillaries that provide oxygen to all the tissues in the radiation field. Over time, these capillaries scar, preventing blood flow and oxygen from reaching the tissues.

Tissues and Organs Most Commonly Affected by Radiation Therapy

  • Head and neck,
  • Chest wall
  • Bladder
  • Rectum

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO) raises tissue oxygen levels above normal to restore healing capacity to tissues otherwise unable to repair themselves. Recently studies have also shown that HBO leads to the release of stem cells from the bone marrow. Migration of these cells to tissues changed by radiation may also be an important mechanism in the increased healing associated with HBO.

Although the process is slow, often requiring several weeks of treatment, HBO is a useful tool for healing tissues damaged by radiation therapy.

Head & Neck

Radiation is life-saving for patients with tumors of the salivary glands, nasal cavity, throat, tonsil and larynx. Changes in the tissues around these tumors can result in significantly impaired healing. These changes may take months to years to develop. Osteoradionecrosis (ORN), spontaneous breakdown of tissue covering the jaws or failure of healing following dental surgery is a devastating problem, possibly resulting in loss of the lower jaw. A combination of HBO and surgery can lead to healing. HBO also should be considered prior to dental surgery procedures, such as removal of teeth from the lower jaw, to help prevent healing complications. At the Hyperbaric Medicine Center we work with a team of experienced surgical specialists to both prevent and heal these problems.

Chest Wall

In rare cases, radiation therapy for breast cancer coupled with surgery for tumor removal can result in a wound that fails to heal. HBO combined with wound care and treatment of infection can lead to healing, functioning as a bridge to reconstructive surgery.

Urinary, Bladder

Bladder cancers may be treated with radiation; More commonly the bladder is exposed to radiation therapy during treatment of prostate, cervical, uterine or colon cancer. Changes in the bladder may take months to years to develop. The most common symptoms are bleeding, possibly severe, chronic pelvic pain or impaired bladder function. Deep ulcers may develop in the bladder leading to a perforation into the bowel or vagina. HBO may help reverse these symptoms and can promote healing of the bladder. At the Hyperbaric Medicine Center we work with a team of experienced specialists in colorectal surgery and urology to heal these problems.

Ano/Rectal

Colorectal cancers may be treated directly with radiation, or the colorectal area is exposed to radiation therapy during treatment of prostate, cervical or uterine cancer. Changes in the bowel may take months to years to develop. The most common symptoms are bleeding, chronic pelvic or rectal pain or impaired bowel function. Deep ulcers may develop in the colon leading to a perforation into the bladder or vagina. HBO may help reverse these symptoms and can promote healing of the bowel. At the Hyperbaric Medicine Center we work with a team of experienced specialists in colorectal surgery to heal these problems.

Skin

Skin cancers may be directly treated with radiation, or the skin is exposed to radiation therapy during treatment of soft tissue cancers. Changes in the skin and underlying tissue may take months to years to develop. The most common symptoms are non-healing skin wounds. Deep ulcers may develop and involve underlying bone or muscle. HBO may help reverse these symptoms and can promote healing of skin wounds.

At the Hyperbaric Medicine Center we work with a team of experienced Plastic/Reconstructive Surgeons to heal these wounds.