Watching Home Box Office will probably do nothing to help cancer patients, but undergoing treatment with HyperBaric Oxygen therapy might. The term “Hyperbaric” means “increased pressure.” Oxygen is an odd kind of gas; making up only about 21% of Earth’s atmosphere, it is absolutely necessary to the survival of most carbon-based life, yet it is highly corrosive and flammable. Hyperbaric Oxygen, or HBO therapy, is primarily used to alleviate some of the negative side effects and “collateral damage” incurred with radiation treatment. When undergoing this procedure, the patient is placed in a special chamber (such as are used to treat deep sea divers for decompression sickness), wearing a mask or hood. S/he then is given pure oxygen to breathe under increased pressure. This forces more oxygen into the bloodstream, which in turn stimulates the growth of new blood vessels around areas that have been damaged by radiation therapy, promoting faster healing.
In addition, the extra oxygen powers up the immune system, enabling it to better combat any secondary infections, and reduce swelling around the treatment area. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that requires multiple treatments used in combination. Current research now indicates that HBO, used in combination with photodynamic therapy, can have a devastating effect on cancer cells. In yesterday’s post, Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) was described. Photosensitizing drugs are injected, which causes cancer cells to be destroyed when exposed to certain types of light. Experiments have shown that oxygen plays a major part in this destruction, as the photons (light particles) interacting with the photosensitizing agent (drug) causes oxygen molecules to react, causing a “free radical reaction” (free radicals are part of what is believed to cause aging). This is what in essence kills off cancer cells. Researchers are finding evidence that use of HBO can increase the effectiveness of PDT when applied to the treatment of mesothelioma.