May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70? If detected early enough, basal or squamous cell skin cancers can be quickly treated with a cure rate of over 90 percent. In some cases, a more invasive cancer such as melanoma calls for aggressive measures potentially including surgery, radiation treatments and the surgical application of skin grafts or flaps during the reconstruction phase.
Skin grafts and flaps involve taking skin from another part of the body to cover where the skin cancer was removed. This type of surgery can increase the likelihood of infection or sepsis and the road to recovery can be complicated, painful, and embarrassing due to visible open wounds. Many of these surgical sites may not heal due to the radiation and lack of blood flow to the area.
These challenges may cause the healing process to be significantly compromised. In that case the patient’s physician – typically an oncologist, dermatologist or plastic surgeon – can refer them for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to improve healing and help preserve the skin and surrounding tissues.
During HBOT the patient is placed in a hyperbaric chamber and breathes 100 percent oxygen under atmospheric pressure up to three times higher than normal. This boosts oxygen levels in the affected tissues, helps prevent infections and promotes healing while encouraging the formation of new blood vessels.
In addition to faster healing, HBOT can reduce the need for additional surgical procedures. It can also help patients avoid further trauma and negative psychosocial effects due to aesthetics. Many patients report that HBOT has given them a new lease on life.
If you or someone you love has had aggressive treatment for skin cancer including radiation therapy, surgery or a skin graft, ask your physician about hyperbaric oxygen therapy. If you have any questions, please contact Annamarie Bomar, Program Director, Center for Wound Healing & Hyperbarics at 580-531-6446.