Oxygen: Healing Cancer's Hidden Wounds

PITTSBURGH. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – For many cancer patients, radiation is a necessary part of live-saving treatment, ridding the body of potentially dangerous cells.  For some, side effects from radiation can be felt weeks, months, even years after treatment. In some cases, doctors are now taking an unusual approach to heal cancer's hidden wounds.

Forty-year-old Shelly Mayberry rarely misses her mark, but for two years, this avid outdoorswoman was sidelined. At first, it was by her doctor's unwelcome diagnosis.

Mayberry told Ivanhoe, "I knew by the look on her face, that it was bad."

Shelly had anal cancer. She endured chemo and intense radiation. It cured the cancer, but left her with open sores that wouldn't heal.

"You're lucky if I got out of bed, lying on my side," Mayberry explained.

Sandeep Kathju, MD, Plastic Surgeon at UPMC Wound Healing Services in Pittsburgh, PA says radiation can cause wounds inside and outside the body.

"They can also be very long-term," he said.

Inside a special hyperbaric chamber, patients breathe pure oxygen for a two-hour long session. The pure oxygen promotes the growth of new blood vessels.

Dr. Kathju told Ivanhoe, "Now those radiation damaged tissues are actually seeing more blood, and therefore getting a permanently higher delivery of oxygen." That means faster healing.

After six weeks of sessions, Shelly was able to hop on the back of her husband's Harley.

Mayberry said, "My life is really back to normal." A ride that at one time would have caused excruciating pain, is once again something to celebrate.

Dr. Kathju says the hyperbaric treatments are not a quick fix. Most patients receive about 30, two-hour treatments over a six-week period. He says the treatments have been effective for patients who have had radiation after breast cancer, gynecological cancers, anal cancer and head and neck cancers.