Oxygen. It’s something that we all breathe and that’s essential for life.
Doctors and scientists, specifically, have long explored the ways in which oxygen could be used for therapeutic benefit beyond its life-sustaining purpose. One of the more interesting applications of oxygen therapy has been for cancer treatment.
Keep reading to learn more about oxygen-based therapy and how it could help you with your cancer.
What is Oxygen Therapy?
Also called hyperbaric oxygen therapy, oxygen therapy is designed to significantly increase the amount of oxygen available in your body and blood stream. Here’s how it works.
By increasing the pressure around you, oxygen therapy makes it possible for the lungs to absorb more oxygen. Normally, the oxygen we breathe goes through the lungs and into the bloodstream, where it is delivered where it is needed around the body. The pressure used during oxygen therapy makes it possible for the lungs to take in more oxygen, providing more of the crucial element around the body.
Oxygen therapy is a well-known treatment for conditions like decompression sickness, which can happen while scuba-diving.
How Does Oxygen Therapy Help Cancer?
When more oxygen is present in the body, our bodies end up producing more cells called growth factors and stem cells. Growth factors are molecules that can help stimulate the growth of cells. Stem cells, on the other hand, are cells produced by bone marrow. These cells are often thought of as blank slates; they have all the tools needed to become any other type of cell, as needed, to meet the needs of the body.
So what’s this got to do with cancer? It turns out the effect is designed to be twofold.
First, the release of stem cells means that the body’s natural healing process is being activated.
But the other effect of oxygen therapy on cancer cells and tumors seems a bit counterintuitive. Oxygen is a vital element for all living things, and you would think cancer cells are no different. And yet, cancer cells often replicate so quickly, and tumors grow so fast, they often outgrow the available oxygen supply. You would think that would be the end of the story for cancer cells but, unfortunately, cancer cells learn to exist and even thrive in the absence of oxygen. This is called hypoxia. Becoming oxygen-independent can even make cancer cells resistant to other cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
So, because cancer cells have become used to living in oxygen-depleted environments, the idea is that flooding them with oxygen will overwhelm and kill cancer cells. Or, at the very least, help restore the potent potential of other cancer therapies.
Is Oxygen Therapy Safe and Effective?
Generally, oxygen therapy holds low or minimal risks for complications or side effects–the worst include bloody noses or headaches afterwards. Oxygen is also highly flammable, which is why you will be asked to avoid smoking or anything similar while receiving oxygen therapy.
Overall, research suggests that oxygen therapy holds promise as a possible cancer treatment option. For example, one study explored oxygen therapy in conjunction with the keto diet, as both target metabolic processes in cancer cells. Findings suggested that the two together could have a beneficial impact on cancer.
In another study, a review of previous oxygen therapy studies found that there was little evidence for oxygen therapy’s use in cancer generally, though there was some evidence that it could have an effect on certain cancer types that needed more research.
Some research also suggests that oxygen therapy could help reduce the side effects of other cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy. For example, a study in prostate cancer patients found that oxygen therapy helped minimize inflammation caused by radiation treatment.
What Can I Expect at an Oxygen Therapy Center?
During oxygen therapy, there is not much extra you will have to do. It will just be more of a time commitment than anything else.
At an oxygen therapy center, you will be asked to lay in a tube or sit in a special room. Once you are in the tube or the room, the center staff will start increasing the air pressure around you. This change in pressure, remember, helps your body take in more oxygen. This process will probably last for a couple hours.
The entire process is relatively painless, though you may feel some discomfort in your ears. This feeling is similar to the pressure you feel in your ears when you fly. After completing treatment, you can leave that same day.
If you’re interested in oxygen therapy, talk to your doctor and discuss how oxygen therapy could fit into your treatment plans.