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Upstate studies health benefits of hyperbaric oxygen on radiation effects to head and neck

One of the unfortunate side effects of radiation therapy for head and neck cancers can be damage to the soft tissue and bones of the jaw.

No matter how precisely the radiation is directed, small blood vessels and collagen may be damaged. Bone death – called osteoradionecrosis – is less common. For treatment, doctors may recommend surgery plus multiple trips into a pressurized chamber with 100 percent oxygen.

It’s the same chamber used to treat decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, arterial gas embolisms and more. The principle is that our lungs can gather more oxygen than normal in a higher-pressure environment. Then our blood cells, rich with oxygen, travel the bloodstream stimulating the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing and help fight infection.

Inside the chamber, patients nap, read or watch a television screen. They breathe pure oxygen. Their bodies begin healing.

“In conjunction with surgery, hyper-oxygenation helps to restore those blood vessels,” says Marvin Heyboer, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine who serves as medical director of hyperbaric medicine at Upstate.

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