Healing Powers


When Safa Naman was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, he moved to the other side of the desk and became the patient instead of the doctor. For the first time, Dr. Naman, an emergency medicine physician at UHS Wilson Medical Center, was studying treatment plans instead of prescribing them.

After the UHS oncology team explained his options, Dr. Naman chose a form of radiosurgery that kills cancer cells with targeted radiation doses. While the procedure’s accuracy reduces damage to healthy cells that surround the target area, no radiotherapy approach entirely eliminates this possibility. For a small percentage of patients, radiation injury to healthy cells results in delayed chronic side effects, with symptoms sometimes presenting six months to 10 years after radiation therapy has ended. In Dr. Naman’s case, it was a year and a half before he began suffering excruciating pain due to radiation injury.

“At first, we assumed it was a urinary infection, since that’s where the pain was, so I started antibiotics,” Dr. Naman recalls. “But when I saw my oncologist, Dr. Haq, at UHS Wilson Medical Center, he immediately put me on hyperbaric oxygen therapy. My treatment is almost done, and the agonizing pain is gone. There’s still some discomfort, but it subsides every day.”


Because the body needs a certain level of oxygen to heal, when it’s in short supply, the result is often poor wound healing and/or painful infections. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) delivers pure oxygen to the body quickly and in high concentrations. The blood carries this highly concentrated oxygen to oxygen-starved organs and tissues, boosting the body’s ability to heal.

There are many reasons why cells become oxygen-deprived. Specific to cancer patients, healthy cells that are injured during radiation therapy may lose their ability to regenerate, which in turn results in damaged blood vessels. Over time, these impaired blood vessels obstruct the flow of oxygen-rich blood through the body and chronic radiation injuries may develop.

Because oxygen deprivation plays an integral role in chronic radiation injury, leading-edge researchers and oncologists made the connection to hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The results have been “amazing,” says Wadih Diab, MD, surgeon and medical director, UHS Center for Advanced Wound Care.

As part of its state-of-the-art program, the UHS Center for Advanced Wound Care has successfully treated a number of cancer survivors suffering chronic radiation injury—like Dr. Naman. “It’s an important patient population, because they’re often experiencing great pain and in extreme cases, must be hospitalized,” Dr. Diab adds. “When we treat these patients with hyperbaric oxygen, the success rate is very high. And this isn’t only a mechanism to heal injury. HBOT also improves these patients’ quality of life, reducing hospitalization, pain and worry.”


HBOT involves a patient resting in a clear acrylic, tube-like chamber and breathing in pure oxygen. The chamber’s air pressure is up to three times higher than normal atmospheric pressure, which allows the lungs to take in far more oxygen. The patient’s blood carries this influx of oxygen throughout the body, infusing damaged cells with healing oxygen. Typically, HBOT therapy includes 30 sessions, Monday through Friday, approximately two hours a day.

For radiation-induced injuries, HBOT helps heal irradiated tissue in three significant ways:

  1. It stimulates angiogenesis, a process involving the growth of new, healthy blood vessels from pre-existing vessels.
  2. It reduces fibrosis, a thickening and scarring of connective tissue that can impede blood flow.
  3. It stimulates and increases the production of stem cells, which play a critical role in the body’s ability to repair injured tissue and organ cells.


While chronic radiation injury is uncommon, affecting an estimated 5 to 15 percent of all radiotherapy patients, for these individuals HBOT is often the only treatment available to prevent irreversible bone or tissue loss and allow certain life-improving surgical procedures. For example, a person who suffers a jawbone injury may experience tooth damage, and oral surgery is required to remove the teeth and prepare the patient for dentures or implants. “According to the Marx protocol, the optimal course of treatment for greatest success is the combination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy with surgery,” explains Dana Pasquale, program director, UHS Center for Advanced Wound Care. “In the past, without hyperbaric oxygen therapy to aid in the healing process, patients may not have experienced the desired outcomes. Now it’s a different story. These patients are smiling again.”


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Patients can watch movies, listen to music, nap or chat with staff or visitors while they are in the hyperbaric chamber.