Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

What is the incidence of Radiation Injury?

Each year,1.5 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the United States. Of these, approximately one-half will receive radiation therapy, and approximately one-half of this group will become long-term survivors.  Unfortunately, about five percent of long-term survivors will develop complications related to radiation treatment.

What is Radiation Injury? 

While radiation therapy is a very effective weapon in the fight against cancer, occasionally healthy tissue may become injured in the process, and some patients will experience radiation injury, also known as soft tissue radionecrosis (STRN) or osteoradionecrosis (ORN). Symptoms of STRN or ORN can occur anywhere from months to 20+ years after radiation treatments are completed. The incidence varies widely with radiation dose, patient age, and site of radiation. Risk factors such as infection, diabetes mellitus, or steroid use can play a role in the development of symptoms of STRN or ORN. In addition, size and location of the original tumor can also be a factor. Although any tissue may be affected, STRN and ORN are most commonly found in the head and neck, chest, breast, abdominal and pelvic area.

What are the symptoms of Osteoradionecrosis (ORN)?

Individuals who undergo radiation treatment for head or neck cancers are at an increased risk of ORN. ORN is delayed bone damage which is most commonly found in the jaw bone. Sores in the mouth that don’t heal or dental x-rays may indicate the presence ORN.

What are the symptoms of soft tissue Radionecrosis (STRN)? 

Individuals who are treated with radiation for cancer in different areas may experience different symptoms of STRN, such as:

  • Head or neck: chronic dry mouth, hoarseness, sore throat, pain, weight loss, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), difficulty breathing (dyspnea) or upper airway obstruction. 
  • Pelvic area or abdominal region: blood in the urine, rectal bleeding, chronic diarrhea, pain, vaginal discharge and loss of bladder control (incontinence). 
  • Chest or breast area: pain in the radiation site and/or a surgical site that becomes infected, won’t heal or heals for a while and then re-opens. 

Why is oxygen the key to healing? 

Radiation damage causes a lack of oxygen in the body’s tissue. Oxygen is needed to help heal damaged tissue. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy helps fight this damage by increasing the amount of oxygen within the tissues, which aids in recovery. Like any therapy, hyperbaric oxygen is not guaranteed 100%. However, hyperbaric oxygen has been proven to assist in the management and healing process. Approximately 60-80% of patients with symptoms of radiation injury who undergo Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy will experience either improvements or near complete resolution of symptoms.

For more information or to make an appointment for an evaluation, call the Bellin Health Wound Healing Center at 920-433-7550.