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According to the American Cancer Society, over 611,720 deaths from cancer are expected in 2024, and around 2 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the United States alone for the first time ever. Along with standard cancer treatments, some new integrated treatments, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), are rapidly being unitized to combat cancer's devastating effects and progression. In fact, several studies reported that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in conjunction with standard cancer treatments (i.e., radiation therapy and chemotherapy) could slow down tumor growth and progression in patients.

What is Cancer?

Normally, a body's cells grow and divide in a controlled manner. However, sometimes, due to certain cellular changes or genetic mutations, normal cells multiply in an uncontrolled fashion, resulting in a mass of cells called cancer or tumor. 

 

Causes of Cancer

Several factors can cause cancer, such as radiation, gene mutations, tobacco use, diet, alcohol consumption, hormonal imbalance, and obesity.

 

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer

Since there are more than 200+ types of cancers, signs and symptoms could differ for each kind. However, the general symptoms of cancer include (but are not limited to):

  • An unusual lump or swelling on your body

  • Bleeding or bruising

  • Coughing up blood

  • Blood in your pee

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Fatigue, pain, or high fever

  • Skin changes

  • Changes in bowel habits

 

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Help?

Unlike normal cells that rely on oxygen for growth, cancer cells can thrive in a low-oxygen environment, also known as hypoxia. Hypoxic cells become more progressive and resistant to cancer treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the oxygen pressure in cancer tissues, which weakens the cancer cell's resistance to radiation therapy and chemotherapeutic drugs and makes them more susceptible to the killing effects of these anticancer therapies. In other words, HBOT therapy, when used as an adjunct treatment, potentially enhances the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments.

 

Below are some ways through which HBOT can help cancer patients:

  • Enhances the Effects of Radiation Therapy - Radiation therapy kills or slows cancer cell growth by damaging the DNA. But this process requires plenty of oxygen supply to be effective. HBOT therapy increases the oxygen supply in the body, including the cancerous tissues, which makes the cancer cells more susceptible to radiation damage. For instance, a study published in 2018 reported that when patients with head or neck cancer underwent radiation therapy while breathing hyperbaric oxygen, they experienced reduced tumor growth and recurrence.

  • Enhances the Efficacy of Chemotherapy Drugs - Various chemotherapeutic drugs need oxygen to generate free radicals that kill cancer cells by increasing oxidative stress. The HBOT increases the oxygen level, which enhances these drugs' efficacy and promotes the accumulation of oxidative damage within the cancer cells. This process ultimately triggers apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells.

  • Treats Cancer Treatment-Associated Injury - Radiation therapy, when it kills the cancer cells, also damages the nearby tissues and blood vessels, leading to a condition called radiation necrosis. HBOT not only repairs the damaged cells but also repairs the damage blood vessels, promotes the re-population of new cells in the damaged area as well as accelerates all wound healing stages.

  • Boost the Activity of the Immune Cells - Tumor hypoxia creates an immunosuppressive microenvironment that inhibits the activity of immune cells. HBOT promotes the activation and proliferation of immune cells by reversing hypoxia-mediated immunosuppression. The activated immune cells such as T-cells, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells enhance the adaptive immune response against cancer cells.  

 

Like every individual is unique and suffers from different types and stages of cancer, the effects of HBOT can vary in all patients. Therefore, it is important to consult your doctor about HBOT and get a customized treatment plan based on your health status. Note that HBOT is a prescription and incorporating it with chemotherapy and/or radiation it should be reviewed and approved by your doctor. 

 

 

References

  1. Costa, D. A., Gonçalves-Nobre, J. G., Sampaio-Alves, M., Guerra, N., Ribeiro, J. A., & Amaro, C. E. (2023). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a complementary treatment in neuroblastoma — A narrative review. Frontiers in Oncology, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fonc.2023.1254322

  2. Moen, I., & B. Stuhr, L. E. (2012). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and cancer—A review. Targeted Oncology, 7(4), 233-242. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11523-012-0233-x

  3. Ortega, M. A., Sáez, M. A., A., M., Monserrat, J., Bujan, J., & Canals, M. L. (2021). A General Overview on the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Applications, Mechanisms and Translational Opportunities. Medicina, 57(9), 864. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicina57090864

  4. Chen, S., Tsuneyama, K., Yen, M., Lee, J., Chen, J., & Huang, S. (2021). Hyperbaric oxygen suppressed tumor progression through the improvement of tumor hypoxia and induction of tumor apoptosis in A549-cell-transferred lung cancer. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91454-2

  5. Bennett, M. H., Feldmeier, J., Smee, R., & Milross, C. (2018). Hyperbaric oxygenation for tumour sensitisation to radiotherapy. Cochrane Library, 2018(7). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd005007.pub4

  6. Oscarsson, N., Müller, B., Rosén, A., Lodding, P., Mölne, J., Giglio, D., ... & Seeman-Lodding, H. (2019). Radiation-induced cystitis treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (RICH-ART): a randomised, controlled, phase 2–3 trial. The Lancet Oncology, 20(11), 1602-1614. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(19)30494-2

  7. Deng, Q., Yang, X., & Li, Z. (2024). Hyperbaric oxygen: a multifaceted approach in cancer therapy. Medical Gas Research, 14(3), 130-132. DOI: 10.4103/mgr.MEDGASRES-D-23-00028

  8. Alpuim Costa, D., Sampaio-Alves, M., Netto, E., Fernandez, G., Oliveira, E., Teixeira, A., ... & Amaro, C. (2022). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a complementary treatment in glioblastoma—a scoping review. Frontiers in Neurology, 13, 886603.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2022.886603

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The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. 
 

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