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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for Cancer Patients

The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been approved for many health conditions such as, carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene and injuries in which tissues are not getting enough oxygen. But, could HBOT help cancer patients in the healing process?

As humans we depend upon the consumption of oxygen all the time. The use of pure 100% oxygen in a high-pressure atmosphere (HBOT) has been shown to accelerate the healing process.

The hyperbaric chamber delivers pure 100% oxygen administered at pressures 1.5 – 3 times the normal atmospheric pressure with treatment times ranging from 60-90 minutes. Administering oxygen at higher pressures causes up to 20 times more oxygen to be absorbed by the blood and transferred to injured organs and tissues. This is extremely beneficial in healing and recovery time.

Any condition that results in inflammation in the body can benefit from HBOT as it delivers more O2 to damaged areas in the body and stimulates the healing process. In cancer, this is important because over time, cancer cells learn to adapt to poor-oxygen environments and they learn to proliferate and grow. At the molecular level, low-oxygen environments can cause genetic instability in a variety of genes leading to abnormal genetic replication resulting in more cancer cells. Administering 100% oxygen to damaged DNA cells like tumor cells can be beneficial in decreasing these harmful DNA replication patterns and also in strengthening the healthier tissues by promoting an environment for genetic stability.

Recent studies involving patients with solid tumors (including breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and gliomas) receiving radiation and chemotherapy show they have much longer survival times, reduced side effects and inhibitory effects on the tumor when using HBOT as a complimentary treatment. Interestingly, recent research has shown that HBOT serves as a chemo-sensitizer in cancer, which means that it increases the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic agents by creating an environment for these agents to better target and kill cancerous cells. Furthermore, just as HBOT increases chemo-sensitivity, it also serves as a radio-sensitizer by enhancing the effects of radiation therapy treatment. As an added benefit displayed by numerous studies on HBOT and wound healing, HBOT is an effective way to treat radiation wounds by providing oxygen to areas that are not being adequately perfused with blood. HBOT promotes vascularization of small capillaries, which provide blood to that given area and support the healing processed of damaged tissue.

HBOT is an acceptable complimentary treatment for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

A young man’s success against brain cancer

Glioblastoma multiforme is a rare brain tumor of the glial cells, the “glue” cells in the brain. It usually accounts for less than 15 percent of all brain tumors and typically the age of diagnosis is anywhere from 45 and 70. Average prognosis for someone with glioblastoma multiforme is approximately 15 months with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation compared to 4 months without. This type of brain tumor metastasizes quickly, spreading throughout the body.

A 13-year-old boy presented to the Nardella clinic, unable to receive chemotherapy due to a unique resistance in his cancer cells. His only option was radiation, which significantly lowered his length of survival. On diagnosis, the tumor was the size of a grapefruit, and following two surgeries; the oncologists were only able to perform partial removal.

The patient received hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) 5 days a week to help sensitize the tumor prior to radiation therapy at Tom Baker Cancer Center. In addition, the patient was receiving oral supplements to help with inflammation and nutrition as well as treatment of the brain cancer.  He was also on a strict ketogenic diet, which is high fat, low protein and low carbohydrate, thus low glucose. While healthy cells can survive on fat or glucose, cancer cells can only use glucose for fuel. Without it, they will starve.

A follow up MRI after two months of treatment showed a significant decrease in tumor size, making it undetectable on the radiology report. The clean report gave hope to this young boy and his family. He continues to do hyperbaric oxygen along with diet, supplementation and intravenous therapy in hopes of keeping the glioblastoma in its state of inactivity.

HBOT- Helping to improve the outcome of Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cornerstone of many cancer treatment strategies, but all treatments carry risk of unwanted side effects. Radiation, especially when combined with chemotherapy, can be especially toxic and produce significant side effects.

Side effects can be acute, manifesting as burns, bleeding, jaw problems, and fibrosis (excess fibrous tissue on organs). They can also be chronic, appearing months or even years following treatment, and manifesting as permanent damage or death of bone and other tissues. The severity of negative effects depend on an individual’s sensitivity to radiation damage. At this point there are no reliable tests to help identify who will be affected to what degree before treatment starts. The best course is to weigh risks versus rewards and treat any side effects as they appear.

So what causes chronic radiation damage?

Most cells have an extraordinary ability to repair themselves, returning to normal within a few weeks of radiation therapy ending. Other cells — in particular skin, gastrointestinal, and bone — are more sensitive to this type of damage and have a more difficult time recovering. In any case the patient manages pain through medication and provides his or her body with proper nutrition to speed healing.

Sometimes healing does not go as planned, and chronic problems develop. Almost all chronic radiation complications are a result of blood vessels becoming scarred and therefore narrowed in the area that received the radiation treatment. If this trend continues — the vessels becoming narrower and narrower — eventually the tissues that rely on the oxygen and nutrients from the blood in those vessels will die.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has a positive treatment record stretching back three decades. A recent analysis of 11 trials assessed the benefits and harms of using HBOT for treating or preventing late radiation injury. The conclusion was that HBOT can prevent damage to bone and significantly improve the odds of healing irradiated tissues.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy achieves these results in a few ways:

  • It stimulates the creation of new blood vessels, which then help to bring supplies to the affected area.
  • It improves tissue oxygenation overall.
  • It reduces fibrosis.
  • It stimulates an increase of stem cells in the affected tissue and mobilizes them to enhance the growth of healthy tissue.

HBOT can treat radiation therapy damage to the brain, muscles, face, throat, bladder, intestines, rectum, and other tissues. Each daily session lasts about 90 minutes, and the entire treatment usually takes 30-40 sessions depending on the needs of the individual. In the long term it preserves the health and function of organs and tissues. In the immediate and short term it increases survivability and decreases acute side effects during radiation therapy. In addition to all of that, it radio-sensitizes cancer tissue, meaning it makes it more susceptible to the radiation therapy.

If you have received or will receive radiation therapy, our naturopathic doctors can create a tailored plan — including HBOT — that helps you achieve the best outcome and the most healing possible.