Mercy Health's unique treatment can help cancer patients heal after radiation therapy

CINCINNATI -- Renee Shannon, who wears streaks of shocking pink in her hair and charms the holes of in her baby-pink Crocs, prefers "breast cancer warrior" to "survivor." Even the radiation treatment she received left her with reminders of her battle: Ribs so fragile they fractured when she sneezed and surgical incisions that healed far more slowly than normal.

"The radiation therapy's intent is to burn cancer cells," Dr. Scott Sinner said. "Unfortunately, what happens with radiation therapy is it inadvertently burns normal, healthy tissue next door."

The healthy tissue in Shannon's body had been badly weakened by the process. How was she supposed to heal from healing?

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When a doctor suggested hyperbaric oxygen therapy at Mercy Health's Clermont Hospital, she wasn't sure it would be right for her. She wasn't sure what it was.

"I was like, ‘We're going to do what?'" she said. "The first thing I did was Google it."

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy puts the patient in a pressure chamber, which looks a little like the pods in which science-fiction characters are known to catch long cryo-naps. The air inside the chamber contains a far higher percentage of oxygen than the air out in the world, and the increased pressure that accompanies it prompts the body to take in more oxygen.

Hyperbaric medicine can be used to treat radiation injuries such as Shannon's in addition to decompression sickness, severe burns and the necrotizing tissue present in some abscesses and ulcers.

Shannon has been through 55 two-hour treatment sessions. Although it's a significant time commitment, she said she can feel the difference.

"This has been so helpful," she said. "It has been life-changing."

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