Cancer treatment has improved significantly over the past decade. Although cure of the cancer is still the highest priority of treatment, cancer specialists have come to recognize the ever-increasing importance of quality of life to the cancer survivor.
One-half of the estimated 1.2 million new cases of invasive cancer will receive radiation therapy as a part of their cancer treatment. Side effects of this therapy can be extremely toxic, especially when combined with chemotherapy. Some people are more sensitive to radiation damage than others and there are no reliable tests available as yet to identify those patients who will experience the worst side effects.
Radiation doses must be adequate to control the cancer otherwise there is no purpose in treating the patient. Most radiation cancer specialists or oncologists design their treatment protocols to give the best dose to control the tumor and still have no more than 5% of patients develop severe reactions to treatment.
Radiation side effects are generally divided into two categories – those that happen during or just after the treatment, called acute reactions; and those that happen months or even years after the treatment, called chronic complications.
These more chronic complications are usually caused by the interruption of nutrients (specifically oxygen) passing through blood vessel walls in the affected area. This is caused by a process of hardening of these vessel walls as a secondary effect of the radiation.
This vessel wall hardening does not allow for the oxygen to pass through to the tissues that require oxygen to repair themselves or indeed in severe cases for tissue survival. Hyperbaric oxygen has been shown to re-grow new blood vessels in the affected area (to about 80% of normal) thus restoring the tissue’s ability to heal.
Occasionally radiation treatment of bowel, prostate or uterine cancers can cause latent injury to the bowel wall resulting in bleeding and other bowel difficulties. Soft tissue radiation necrosis of the large bowel or bladder is effectively treated with hyperbaric oxygen believed to result from stimulation of angiogenesis in radiation-injured tissue.