HBO therapy use in cancer.

Radiotherapy| treatment for cancer can cause changes in the oxygen supply to tissues in the treated area. This is because radiotherapy affects normal cells and blood vessels as well as cancer cells.

The small blood vessels in the treated area can be damaged by radiotherapy treatment, causing less blood to be supplied to that area. When this happens, it becomes more difficult for essential oxygen and nutrients to reach the tissues. Over a period of time, these affected tissues may start to break down and become fragile. The tissues may form areas of open sores (ulceration) and, rarely, some tissues may eventually die off completely (radiation necrosis). These radiation injuries can occur very slowly over a number of months or even years.

Although HBO treatment has been available for a long time, its use for these effects of cancer is relatively new. Research into the use of HBO in treating the long-term side effects of radiotherapy is ongoing in the UK. However, previous studies have suggested that HBO may be effective in the following conditions:

Chronic lymphoedema in breast cancer

Radiotherapy is often given after breast-conserving surgery for breast cancer. A potential side effect of radiotherapy to the breast and armpit is lymphoedema (especially if all the lymph nodes have been surgically removed).

Lymphoedema is a swelling in the arm because of an abnormal collection of lymph in the body’s tissues. It can cause pain and redness (erythema). HBO therapy may help these symptoms by reducing the swelling in patients where the tissues are not too badly damaged. Research trials are looking at how effective HBO therapy is in treating lymphoedema.

HBO therapy may help these symptoms by reducing the swelling in the area in those patients where the tissues are not too badly damaged. Research trials| are looking at how effective HBO therapy is in treating lymphoedema.

Chronic radiation cystitis

Radiotherapy is used as a treatment for some types of pelvic cancer. Sometimes treatment can lead to chronic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder tissues). Symptoms include increased urinary frequency (needing to go a lot), pain when passing urine, and blood in the urine (haematuria). These problems can occur months or years after treatment. Symptoms can be persistent and range from moderate to severe. HBO therapy may be useful to relieve these symptoms when other forms of treatment have been tried without success.


Radiotherapy is often used for cancers in the head and neck. The tissues around this area are fragile and may break down after radiotherapy, particularly if surgery has been carried out previously. Although it is rare, the bone itself can be affected by radiotherapy and start to break down and die. This is known as osteoradionecrosis. It can also happen when radiotherapy is given to other areas of the body, such as the chest or the pelvis.

A research study called HOPON is finding out if giving HBO prevents damage to your jaw bone after radiotherapy for head and neck cancer.

Treatment for osteoradionecrosis includes antibiotics, ‘washing-out’ the area with salty water (saline irrigation), and sometimes surgery to remove some or all of the affected bone. Although HBO therapy cannot restore the dead bone, increased oxygen can help the tissues around the area to heal by encouraging blood vessels to grow.

HBO therapy can also be given before reconstructive surgery to help the healing process, prevent infection and encourage blood vessels to grow and form new bone. If wounds or tissue are infected, treatment would usually consist of medicines or surgery as well as HBO therapy.

Tooth removal

Having a tooth removed shortly before, during or after radiotherapy treatment to the mouth and jaw area may increase the risk of osteoradionecrosis. This is because of the reduced oxygen supply to the area. HBO therapy can be given to help prevent this happening (if used both before and after the tooth extraction) and to stimulate the healing process.

Chronic radiation proctitis

Radiotherapy can be given for pelvic and bowel cancer. The rectum is very sensitive and, although rare, long-term symptoms due to radiation damage can occur. These include pain, bleeding and irregularity in bowel habits. If these symptoms do not improve following treatments such as anti-inflammatory medicines, HBO therapy may be helpful.

A new research study called HOT II is trying to find out if HBO helps people who have developed bowel complications as a result of radiotherapy to the pelvis.