In 1995, 40 daily radiation treatments helped cure Walter Dunkling’s prostate cancer. Then, two years ago, Dunkling, a retired FBI Special Agent and instructor who relocated from Quantico, Virginia, to Schuylkill County, noticed that his urine was tinged with blood.
Fortunately, Dunkling’s diagnosis wasn’t a return of his cancer. Instead, it was radiation cystitis, a condition caused by radiation treatments he had long ago.
“Medication cleared it up right away,” Dunkling says. But when the cystitis came back, Dunkling’s doctor referred him to the Advanced Wound Care Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Schuylkill S. Jackson Street for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can often help radiation cystitis when conventional therapy fails,” says Scott Stephenson, program director at the Advanced Wound Care Center.
During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Dunkling rested in a see-through tubular acrylic chamber two hours each weekday for four weeks. The chamber was pressurized to a level associated with being about 33 feet underwater, equivalent to two atmospheres.
“Patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy receive 100 percent oxygen throughout their body,” says Gail Zerby, LPN, hyperbaric technician at the Advanced Wound Care Center. The treatment works by infusing wounds with pure oxygen through the bloodstream, to help reduce infection, swelling and inflammation, and promote healing.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is approved by Medicare to treat 15 conditions, from diabetic foot ulcers that won’t heal to chronic refractory osteomyelitis, a bone infection. Radiation damage related to treatment is among those conditions.
Spreading the word
“Radiation therapy can have complications that happen 10, 20 or even 30 years later,” says Cathy Cruz, RN, clinical nurse manager at the Advanced Wound Care Center. Still, too few patients with radiation damage know that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help. “It’s a very underutilized service within the county,” Stephenson says.