Osteoradionecrosis (ORN) is bone that has died as a complication of radiation therapy. It occurs because radiation inevitably destroys normal cells and blood vessels, as well as tumor cells. Damage to the small arteries reduces circulation to the area, depriving it of oxygen and other necessary nutrients. This process is gradual and may take many months or years to appear.
If you require surgery to the affected area, the wound may not heal. Oxygen delivered at hyperbaric pressures has been shown to produce new blood vessels in the irradiated area and stimulate wound healing. This results in a long-term improvement in the quality of the tissue.
There are two reasons why hyperbaric oxygen is given to radiation patients:
- To prevent osteoradionecrosis following dental extraction: Studies show that the chance of getting ORN is reduced from 28 percent to 5 percent with hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
- To repair damage from established osteoradionecrosis: Improvement is documented in 83 percent of cases treated with hyperbaric oxygen.
You may need to have surgery or dental work. If you do not have osteoradionecrosis, you will require a course of 20 treatments prior to your surgery and 10 treatments immediately following surgery. If you already have osteoradionecrosis, you will typically need 30 treatments prior to surgery and 10 after.
If you had radiation to the head and neck region, you may be experiencing a reduction in saliva. This may affect your speech and swallowing. Some hyperbaric patients have found that salivation has improved during their course of treatment.
How it all works
The air we breathe contains 21 percent oxygen. This can be increased to 100 percent if we breathe 100 percent oxygen via a mask or hood (personalized oxygen tent surrounding your head). The body’s oxygen supply can be increased by a further two or three times by entering a hyperbaric chamber and receiving 100 percent oxygen at increased pressure.
Oxygen delivered in this manner can be ‘dissolved’ into the blood stream and body tissues at a far greater rate than if we did not use pressure.
A short two-hour treatment has lasting effects and, like any medication, oxygen will be given to you as a ‘course of treatments’. Hyperbaric oxygen works over a period of time and for permanent effects, the entire course must be completed.
The benefits to you include:
- Increasing oxygen promotes tiny new blood vessels to grow inside and around the radiation site. As you grow more blood vessels, more oxygen rich blood can reach the affected area.
- Decreasing swelling (edema) around the radiation site. Decreasing the swelling allows the blood to flow more freely to the area, bringing with it oxygen.
- High oxygen levels increase the ability of the ‘infection fighting’ cells (white blood cells) to kill bacteria.