The Wound Healing Center at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka Raises Awareness of Radiation Injuries

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April is National Cancer Control Month. Complications of radiation treatment may occur up to 20 years after treatment.

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April is National Cancer Control Month and thanks to early detection and new therapies, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 64 percent of adults whose cancer is diagnosed today can expect to be living in five years.

Yet after beating cancer, many patients who undergo radiation therapy discover a hidden complication that may not come to light until years after they concluded treatments.

"Radiation doesn’t differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue," says Dr. Carol Ann Royer, panel physician at The Wound Healing Center at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka. "Radiation causes a lack of oxygen in the body's tissues, but visible symptoms of soft tissue radiation injury may not occur until as much as 20 years later. In fact, one study showed an average time of eight years and seven months before patients who underwent radiation experienced these complications."

Of the more than one million people who will be diagnosed with cancer this year, half will undergo radiation therapy which, according to the American Cancer Society, will result in serious radiation complications for up to five percent.

"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the only therapy known to reverse the vascular compromise responsible for late radiation effects," Royer explains. "There are no alternative therapies that correct the problems these patients have although narcotics and antidepressants have been used to control the pain with limited success and significant side effects. Nothing is a cure-all but hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers 60 to 80 percent of patients either improvement or complete resolution of the injury."

While receiving hyperbaric oxygen treatments, patients watch movies while relaxing on a bed incased in a large see-through plastic shell as they are surrounded by 100 percent oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure which enables oxygen molecules to pass through the plasma to the body more easily and speed healing.

The local experts at the Saint Joseph Wound Healing Center in Mishawaka and Plymouth offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy and provide these tips to identifying and treating radiation therapy:

· Unlike more typical chronic wounds, soft tissue radiation injuries are usually not as visible. A biopsy is not always practical so all other causes of symptoms need to be considered before a diagnosis is made.

· Most common symptoms that suggest radiation injury are presence of blood in urine, rectal bleeding, vaginal discharge and pain.

· Post-irradiated skin initially may resemble early skin changes consistent with thermal injuries: redness or alterations in pigmentation, itching, wounds caused by excess scratching and pain.

· Areas especially prone to tissue injury are those covering bony prominences, surgical areas and those on the face. Moist skin folds such as those under the breast, the armpit and around the anus and genitals are also vulnerable.

· Soft tissue radiation injuries often arise after tooth extraction in patients with prior radiation therapy. The second most common group of patients are those who have received radiation to treat gynecological, prostrate and colon cancer.

· Radiation injuries may occur spontaneously or in response to a traumatic injury or infection. The wounds may appear superficial and the pain associated with these injuries is often the reason a patient seeks treatment.

· Patients who are currently receiving chemotherapy must have a thorough review by a hyperbaric physician before being treated for injuries since some drugs may have adverse affects.

For more information about radiation injury and treating and preventing chronic wounds, contact The Wound Healing Center located at the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, Indiana, by calling 574-335-6210. For Plymouth, Indiana, call 574-941-3140.

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Laura Mortlock

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