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Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat cancer by targeting malignant tumors in the body—such as the prostate, the head and neck, the throat, and the breast—and destroying cancer cells to prevent them from spreading.

This kind of therapy can be very effective in treating cancer; however, those who have gone through a normal course of radiation therapy may be at risk of suffering from delayed radiation injuries that can significantly impact their health.

Due to the fact that symptoms can manifest long after the radiation therapy is received, it may be difficult to pinpoint the cause of these health issues. However, FDA-approved treatments, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, can help address these symptoms—and are often covered by insurance once the problem is identified.

A delayed radiation injury can occur anywhere from six months to more than 30 years after the initial treatment. These side effects can vary, depending upon the area of the body that was radiated. Because it can take so long for these symptoms to show, sometimes, it can be difficult to make the connection.

The type of cancer treated typically affects the area where symptoms of delayed radiation injury appear; however, these are not limited to the original treatment location.

For example:

Those treated for prostate cancer, which involves targeting the pelvis with radiation, may notice certain symptoms elsewhere, including:

  • Rectal pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hematuria (blood in your urine)
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Proctitis
  • Bloating
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Severe dysuria
  • Erectile dysfunction

Learn more about urology-related symptoms of delayed radiation injury.

Those treated for breast cancer may notice side effects, such as:

  • Non-healing chest wound
  • Changes in your skin
  • Pneumonitis

Those treated for head and neck cancer may exhibit other symptoms, such as:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Excessive dry mouth
  • Jaw pain/infection
  • Dental issues (i.e., cavities)

Those who underwent radiation therapy to treat brain cancer may experience symptoms such as:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Trouble remembering
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Weakness of the arms or legs

Other symptoms of delayed radiation injury may include:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Bladder spasms
  • Constant urge to urinate

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, may be the key to begin the healing process.

As Dr. Scott Sherr, a physician partner and head of Innovation and Protocol Development at Hyperbaric Medical Solutions, explains, "There is no other treatment as effective for radiation injury as HBOT.  Every other treatment currently available is a temporary fix...HBOT, in contrast, yields long-lasting results by healing the body from the inside out by decreasing inflammation and swelling, by repopulating injured tissue with new stem cells to revitalize and strengthen it, and by building new blood vessels to bring nutrients to the tissue in the long-term to keep it healthy."

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Learn more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a possible treatment for radiation damage.


{Updated: March 6, 2019}


Written by Alan Katz, MD, FUHM, FACEP, FAAEM

Dr. Alan Katz, National Medical Director of Hyperbaric Medical Solutions (HMS), is double board certified in Emergency Medicine and Hyperbaric Medicine. He directs clinical operations, as well as education and research initiatives for HMS, particularly in exploring the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy....

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