By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
People who get radiation treatment for brain tumors are less likely to suffer brain damage from the treatments if they spend time in a high-pressure oxygen chamber, according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati.
UC was recently awarded a two-year, $450,000 federal grant to study how the oxygen chamber can help reduce the brain damage that can occur from radiation treatments.
Nationwide, more than 18,000 brain and spinal cord tumors are diagnosed each year. Those account for less than 2 percent of all cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Currently, most brain tumor patients who suffer radiation damage are treated with steroids, but the treatment doesn't help all patients.
The new approach was developed by Dr. Laurie Gesell, director of hyperbaric medicine at UC. It involves placing the patient in the chamber to breathe 100 percent oxygen at increased pressure. Each treatment lasts more than two hours, and patients repeat the treatment as many as 60 times during 12 weeks.
UC has treated an unspecified number of brain tumor patients in the hyperbaric chamber for the past six years. The new study will involve up to 30 patients.
It remains unclear exactly how the high-pressure oxygen helps heal injured brain tissue, but it clearly has helped people, Gesell said.
"We think the increased oxygen at pressure promotes the growth of new blood vessels into the injured tissue, helping the healing process," she said.
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