The Rule of 3’s
Oxygen, water, food – the basics of survival. While there are exceptions, the “Rule of 3’s” applies. You can last approximately three weeks without food, three days without water, but only about three minutes without oxygen.
So is it any surprise that oxygen, being one of life’s most essential ingredients, is vital to the recovery from cancer and the debilitating side effects that traditional medical cancer treatments can induce?
Pumping Up Your Oxygen Levels with HBOT
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a therapeutic technique designed to increase the body’s oxygen levels and speed up healing at a rapid rate. The U.S. Navy provided the first HBOT in the 1930s for the purpose of combatting decompression sickness. And since the 1950s, HBOT treatments have been routinely performed in healthcare centers across the world to treat a variety of stubborn ailments.
The treatment involves breathing 100% pure oxygen while enclosed in a sealed, pressurized chamber. Because the chamber is pressurized at nearly three times greater than normal atmospheric pressure, the body’s blood plasma quickly becomes saturated and is able to speed healing by carrying 15-20 times the normal amount of oxygen to the body’s tissues.
To date, there are over 120 reported conditions for which hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been shown to be beneficial. Not only does HBOT treat air or gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, problematic wound healing, severe anemia, retinal artery occlusion, acute thermal burn injury, and intercranial abscess, it promotes the development of new blood vessels in the body, increases the body’s ability to fight infection, decreases inflammation and swelling, and deactivates bacterial toxins, thus reducing the risk of infection (UCLA Health).
Other proven uses include treatment of bone infections, frostbite, burns, and crush injuries. In addition, HBOT may also be used to provide enough oxygen to the lung during a procedure called whole lung lavage, which is used to clean an entire lung in people with certain medical conditions, like pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (University of Florida Health).
“When it comes to healing injuries (including concussions and wounds) faster, increasing oxygen delivery to damaged tissues, blasting the body with nitric oxide for better blood flow, increasing the production of collagen, and even causing a natural release of your own stem cells, there is nothing as powerful as HBOT. I am blown away by the body of research on this impressive biohack.” Ben Greenfield, Fitness Expert
For Cancer Patients, the Results are Remarkable
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy packs a one-two punch for cancer patients:
- HBOT suppresses tumor growth and makes cancer cells easier to kill
- HBOT reduces recovery time and side effects of radiation and chemotherapy
In a study performed in 2010 (published in Cancer Biology & Therapy), hyperoxia (a state of excess oxygen in the body) appears to inhibit STAT3 activation, which is a key step in [ovarian] tumor progression.
And in a more recent study published in 2021 (Scientific Reports), it was demonstrated that hyperbaric oxygen induced apoptosis (death) of cancer cells. In this study, researchers investigated the effects of HBOT on solid tumors, such as lung cancer, a notable study as lung cancer is currently responsible for more than one million deaths annually.
Hypoxic (oxygen starved) tumor cells are more likely to metastasize and to be resistant to chemotherapy. When you flood your body with oxygen, however, the increased oxygen levels result in increased vascularization of tumor cells.
Clinical studies have also demonstrated that HBOT not only reduces the recovery time following surgical procedures, but also reduces the long-term damage and side effects of chemo and radiation therapy.
In a study published in Cancer (2011), HBOT was administered to long-term brain tumor survivors for severe cognitive deficits following neuro- and radiosurgery. Researchers concluded that HBOT improves neurophysiologic performance in long-term brain tumor survivors.
“HBOT has the longest history of success in treating or preventing damage to the jawbone resulting from radiation treatment and has also been [effectively] used to treat radiation-induced damage to the head, neck, chest wall, abdomen, and pelvis.
HBOT may prevent tooth loss or collapse of the jawbone in patients previously treated for head or neck cancers, promote successful skin grafts or flaps following reconstructive surgery in patients treated for breast cancer, and eliminate persistent urinary bleeding (radiation cystitis) in patients treated for prostate cancer.” (UCLA Health)
According to Susan Sprau, MD, Medical Director of UCLA Hyperbaric Medicine, HBOT is often the last hope for patients who suffer from late effects of radiation exposure. “For the subset of patients who suffer from late effects of radiation exposure, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is often the only treatment than can prevent irreversible bone or tissue loss or enable them to undergo life-improving reconstructive procedures such as breast or facial surgeries. By offering this therapy, we are able to provide a better quality of life to patients who have already survived devastating illnesses.”
What to Expect in An HBOT Treatment
Kate McKenney, Michigan Medicine Comprehensive Wound Care Clinic, says, “We call our treatments ‘dives’ because our chamber is pressurized to 2.2 ATA (atmospheres absolute), which is the equivalent of scuba diving down 40 feet of seawater. It’s a unique treatment that not many people know about.” (https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/what-to-know-before-receiving-hyperbaric-oxygen-chamber-therapy)
A monoplace (1 person) chamber or a multiplace (2 or more people) chamber may be used. In a multiplace chamber, patients typically wear a mask or may be inside a “tent” for oxygen delivery. The multiplace chamber may be more comfortable for those people who suffer from claustrophobia.
Typically, multiple sessions (20-40 treatments) are needed with each session lasting one to two hours. During the procedure, patients may experience ear popping or mild sinus discomfort. Rare side effects include pulmonary oxygen toxicity and occasional temporary changes in vision after repeated HBOT sessions. However, most patients do not experience any negative symptoms during or following an HBOT session and can return to work the following day.
Is It Safe for Children?
HBOT has proven highly successful for children, particularly those with brain injuries, autism, developmental and learning delays.
How to Find An HBOT Treatment Center
Hyperbaric Treatment Centers have popped up across the U.S. in recent years. Many hospitals have hyperbaric therapy options, and smaller units may also be available in outpatient centers. Consider asking for a referral from your primary care doctor or another specialist.
C.H. Chang, “Hyperbaric oxygen and radiation therapy in the management of glioblastoma,” National Cancer Institute Monograph (December 1977);46:163-9.
S. Chen, K. Tsuneyama, M. Yen, et al., “Hyperbaric oxygen suppressed tumor progression through the improvement of tumor hypoxia and induction of tumor apoptosis in A549-cell-transferred lung cancer,” Scientific Reports (2021) 11, 12033; doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91454-2.
J. Daruwalla, Chris Christophi, “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for malignancy: a review,” World Journal of Surgery (December 2006);30(12):2112-31. doi: 10.1007/s00268-006-0190-6.
Y. Kawasoe, M. Yokouchi, Y. Ueno, H. Iwaya, H. Yoshida, S. Komiya, “Hyperbaric oxygen as a chemotherapy adjuvant in the treatment of osteosarcoma,” Oncology Reports (November 2009);22(5):1045-50. doi: 10.3892/or_00000534.
N. Schellart, D. Reits, A.J. van der Kleij, L. Stalpers, “Hyperbaric oxygen treatment improved neurophysiologic performance in brain tumor patients after neurosurgery and radiotherapy: a preliminary report,” Cancer (August 2011);117(15):3434-44. doi: 10.1002/cncr.25874.
K. Selvendiran, M.L. Kuppusamy, S. Ahmed, A. Bratasz, G. Meenakshisundaram, B.K. Rivera, M. Khan, P. Kuppusamy, “Oxygenation inhibits ovarian tumor growth by downregulating STAT3 and cyclin-D1 expressions,” Cancer Biology & Therapy (August 2010);10(4):386-90. doi: 10.4161/cbt.10.4.12448.
K. Stepien, R.P. Ostrowski, E. Matyja, “Hyperbaric oxygen as an adjunctive therapy in treatment of malignancies, including brain tumours,” Medical Oncology (2016) 33:101 DOI 10.1007/s12032-016-0814-0. mitigate side effects of chemotherapy (such as “chemo brain”), radiation, and decrease the recovery time after surgical procedures.
“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy effectively treats long-term damage from radiation therapy,” UCLA Health https://www.uclahealth.org/hyperbaric/Workfiles/clinical_updates/hyperbaric/HyperRad-01-15-13.pdf.