October is breast cancer awareness month, raising awareness about a disease which affects 1 in every 27 women in South Africa each year and accounts for 16% of cancer deaths among women.
While the common treatments for breast cancer are radiotherapy, chemotherapy and mastectomy, some research has gone into using oxygen to help inhibit cancerous tumours.
“Some breast cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy, can cause damage to healthy tissue around the area being treated. Usually, that tissue damage heals normally over time. But sometimes nearby blood vessels lose the ability to supply enough blood to the healing area. When the blood supply is limited, cells do not get enough oxygen. This slows the healing process even more and sometimes places the patient at risk of developing an infection,” said Joseph Winer, Managing Director at Oxygenate, a hyperbaric oxygen therapy practice in Cape Town.
Oxygen is given to patients via a hyperbaric chamber which increases atmospheric pressure and creates a physiological process known as “hyperoxia” which means it gives more oxygen to the cells in the body.
“Oxygen not only accelerates the healing of wounds and pain alleviation; it can also inhibit the development of cancerous cells or tumours. Research in the cancer domain is ongoing, and due to the complexities of each cancer, often more research is required. But oxygen has been proven to have beneficial results for breast cancer patients,” said Winer.
According to the Cancer Treatment Centres of America, the use of oxygen to treat cancers is not definitive. Results from tests have been inconclusive with some tests showing hyperbaric oxygen did slow down the growth of some cancers but not others. “Differences in response to oxygen between different cancer types should not lead to an exclusion of HBO as a form of cancer treatment or as a cancer treatment adjuvant for selected types of cancers,” the 2012 Norwegian study said.
While the science is still out on whether oxygen is a viable option in assisting treat cancer, early detection through self-examination is the best way to catch an issue early and improve any treatment outcomes.