Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the treatment of late radiation tissue injury (LRTI)

Cancer is a significant global health problem. Radiotherapy is a treatment for many cancers and about 50% of patients having radiotherapy will be long-term survivors. Some will experience LRTI developing months or years later. HBOT has been suggested for LRTI based upon the ability to improve the blood supply to these tissues. It is postulated that HBOT may result in both healing of tissues and the prevention of problems following surgery.


To assess the benefits and harms of HBOT for treating or preventing LRTI.

Search strategy

The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) Issue 3, 2004, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and DORCTHIM (hyperbaric RCT register) in September 2004 was searched.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the effect of HBOT versus no HBOT on LRTI prevention or healing.

Data collection and analysis

Three reviewers independently evaluated the quality of the relevant trials using the guidelines of the Cochrane Handbook and extracted the data from the included trials.

Main results

Six trials contributed to this review (447 participants). For pooled analyses, investigation of heterogeneity suggested important variability between trials. From single studies there was a significantly improved chance of healing following HBOT for radiation proctitis (relative risk (RR) 2.7, 95% confidence Interval (CI) 1.2 to 6.0, P = 0.02, numbers needed to treat (NNT) = 3), and following both surgical flaps (RR 8.7, 95% CI 2.7 to 27.5, P = 0.0002, NNT = 4) and hemimandibulectomy (RR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.8, P = 0.001, NNT = 5). There was also a significantly improved probability of healing irradiated tooth sockets following dental extraction (RR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.7, P = 0.009, NNT = 4).

There was no evidence of benefit in clinical outcomes with established radiation injury to neural tissue, and no data reported on the use of HBOT to treat other manifestations of LRTI. These trials did not report adverse effects.


These trials suggest that for people with LRTI affecting tissues of the head, neck, anus and rectum, HBOT is associated with improved outcome. HBOT also appears to reduce the chance of osteoradionecrosis following tooth extraction in an irradiated field.