Hyperbaric O2 may alleviate radiation therapy side effects

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Researchers in the United Kingdom are testing whether an oxygen treatment given to injured soccer players can help alleviate side effects suffered by pelvic cancer patients.

Patients who receive radiation therapy for pelvic cancer—including cancer of the cervix, ovary, prostate, testis, rectum, bladder and uterus—suffer some very unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea and stomach cramps. While for many patients those side effects disappear after a couple of weeks after the end of therapy, some patients can develop long-term bowel problems.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HOT) has been used to treat scuba divers who suffer from decompression sickness, as well as injured soccer players who receive it as a way to heal more quickly. The treatment involves putting the subject in a sealed chamber and having them breathe 100 percent oxygen while the atmospheric pressure in the chamber is slowly increased. This lasts for about 30 minutes, after which the air in the chamber is slowly returned to normal pressure.

Now, the Institute for Cancer Research in the U.K. and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London are sponsoring a trial—called the HOT II trial—to determine whether the therapy will work for patients who have been suffering pelvic cancer radiation therapy side effects for at least a year. The trial will take place in several locations throughout Great Britain, and the first patient—a 71-year old woman—received treatments this week at a chamber at Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust in Leytonstone.