Radiation’s good news/bad news for cancer patients.

The good news:  High doses of radiation therapy destroy cancer cells.

The bad news: Radiation therapy can also damage healthy cells and tissues near the treatment area, including the tiny blood vessels that feed the cells.

Good news : Healthy cells that are damaged during radiation treatment usually recover within a few months after treatment is over.

Bad news: five to 15 percent of cancer patients can experience chronic complications from radiation therapy. (see sidebar)

Good news: Hyperbaric oxygen has shown consistent benefit in treating patients with delayed radiation injury. It has also had success in preventing radiation injury when used before radiation treatment.

Doctors have used radiation therapy to treat cancer for more than 100 years. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been applied as a therapy for delayed radiation injury for more than 30 years.

  •         Hyperbaric oxygen stimulates angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth) and secondarily improves tissue oxygenation;
  •         Hyperbaric oxygen reduces fibrosis (scar tissue formation)
  •         Hyperbaric oxygen can mobilize and stimulate an increase of stem cells within irradiated tissues.

Half of US cancer patients will receive radiation therapy, either as the only treatment, or in conjunction with chemotherapy and other treatments. For some people, radiation therapy causes few or no side effects. For others, the side effects are more severe – five to 15 percent of cancer patients can experience chronic complications from radiation therapy. The side effects of radiation can begin during treatment or may show up months or years after radiation therapy is over. These are called “late effects” or “delayed radiation injury”.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has shown consistent benefit in treating patients with delayed radiation injury. For those patients who suffer from late effects of radiation exposure, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is often the only treatment that can prevent irreversible bone or tissue loss or enable them to undergo life-improving reconstructive procedures such as breast or facial surgeries.

HBOT can provide better quality of life to patients who have already survived cancer.

Breast cancer survivors, for example, can develop severe chest wounds. Patients with head and neck cancers who received high doses of radiation to the jawbone risk bone damage. People treated with radiation to the pelvic area can experience bladder problems.

“In these cases, the lining of the bladder becomes damaged because of the lack of blood flow. The damage can lead to blood in the urine which could require blood transfusions but with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, we grow new capillaries and the bleeding stops in a significant portion of our patients.”  – Dr. Farris Gulli, Medical Director.

Experts believe HBOT helps patients by stimulating growth of new blood vessels following radiation-induced damage. This gives the body the opportunity to heal and significantly improve, if not totally relieve, patients of their presenting symptoms.

If surgery is necessary in the area of previous radiation, post-operative healing may be impaired. HBOT can improve surgical outcomes, including improving the success of skin grafting or skin flaps, if needed.

HBOT has also been very successful in treating the pain, incontinence, spasms, diarrhea and bleeding of radiation colitis or enteritis which can occur when there is radiation to the area of the lower abdomen; and in eliminating persistent urinary bleeding (radiation cystitis) in patients treated for ovarian, bladder or prostate cancer.

HBO may prevent tooth loss or collapse of the jaw bone in patients previously treated for head or neck cancers, promote successful skin grafts or flaps following reconstructive surgery in patients treated for breast cancer.

People with chronic bone and soft tissue damage caused by radiation to treat cancer represent a large portion of the patients receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy. In the U.S., nearly one half of HBOT patients are being treated for radiation injury.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is safe, non-invasive, effective and well-tolerated by appropriate patients. Hyperbaric treatment for radiation damage qualifies for Medicare and other third-party payer reimbursement.

Is HBOT right for you? The experts at Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy of Western New York can answer your questions and address any concerns you may have. Visit us at www.02wny.com or call us: (585) 426-8969


More information on Delayed Radiation Injury can be found on the National Cancer Institute website:

Late effects are specific to certain types of treatments and the dose received. When you and your doctor discuss your follow-up care, your doctor should talk with you about which late effects to watch for. Early medical attention often can reduce problems that can come from late effects.

Bone Loss