How footballers have helped cancer patients

October 6, 2009


It’s not a natural connection perhaps, despite the Bobby Moore Fund and its sterling work in raising funds for research into bowel cancer, but a new treatment has linked the two things.

It comes through hyperbaric oxygen therapy that is normally given to treat injured footballers to help them heal more quickly and to treat scuba divers who suffer the bends. It involves the patient sitting in a sealed chamber and breathing 100 per cent oxygen while the air pressure around them is gradually increased. The treatment lasts about 30 minutes and after it finishes the air in the chamber is slowly returned to normal pressure before the patient leaves.

A trial just beginning at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital aims to see if it could also help relieve the side-effects from radiotherapy that pelvic cancer patients often suffer.

These patients may be suffering from cancer of the cervix, ovary, prostate, testis, rectum, bladder and uterus and are left with unpleasant side-effects including diarrhoea, stomach cramps and frequent bowel movements.

Most patients return to normal within a few weeks of stopping radiotherapy treatment, but about 30 per cent develop long-term bowel problems that can interfere with their daily activities and certainly affect their quality of life.

At the moment there is no cure for these symptoms and, as more people are treated for pelvic cancer, an increasing number of people will experience such side effects. A recent small study found evidence that hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be able to improve this situation so a large trial is now underway at specialist centres in Cardiff, Chichester, Great Yarmouth, Hull, Plymouth, North London and the Wirral to properly test whether this therapy works in patients who have been suffering side-effects for at least a year.


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