Local cancer patients experiencing serious side effects from radiation therapy have a place they can go for treatment: the Comprehensive Wound Healing Center at East Georgia Regional Medical Center.
During April, which is National Cancer Control Month, East Georgia Regional is working to raise awareness about radiation injuries. The hospital’s wound center is a member of the Healogics network of wound care centers that specialize in treating radiation injuries.
"Radiation doesn’t differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue," said Scott Covington, MD, FACS, CHWS, executive vice president of medical affairs for Healogics. "Radiation causes a lack of oxygen in the body's tissues but visible symptoms of soft tissue radiation injury may not occur until as much as 20 years later. In fact, one study showed an average time of eight years and seven months before patients who underwent radiation experienced these complications."
Dr. John Martin serves as the Statesboro center's medical director. He has been in that position since the wound center opened its doors in 2006.
"Unlike more typical chronic wounds, soft tissue radiation injuries are usually not as visible," Martin said. "A biopsy is not always practical so all other causes of symptoms need to be considered before a diagnosis is made. Radiation injuries may occur spontaneously or in response to a traumatic injury or infection. The wounds may appear superficial and the pain associated with these injuries is often the reason a patient seeks treatment."
More than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and about half of all cancer patients undergo radiation therapy. According to the American Cancer Society, serious radiation-related complications can occur in up to 5 percent of patients who receive therapeutic radiation. Martin said patients who undergo radiation therapy discover a hidden complication that may not come to light until years after they concluded treatments.
The Comprehensive Wound Healing Center offers hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat radiation injuries.
"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the only therapy known to reverse the vascular compromise responsible for late radiation effects," Covington explains. "There are no alternative therapies that correct the problems these patients have although narcotics and antidepressants have been used to control the pain with limited success and significant side effects. Nothing is a cure-all, but hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers 60 to 80 percent of patients either improvement or complete resolution of the injury."
Martin said while receiving hyperbaric oxygen treatments, patients watch movies while relaxing on a bed encased in a large see-through plastic shell as they are surrounded by 100 percent oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure which allows for better oxygen penetration to the tissue. These patients have to meet certain wound criteria and have to pass a stringent medical screening.
"Our patients are referred to us by their primary care physicians or other referral physicians," Martin said. "The wound care physicians do a history and physical, order diagnostic test, if indicated, and determine a plan of care following established clinical practice guidelines. Treatment will focus on the causation of the non-healing wound, co-existing conditions that impact wound healing, and topical wound management."
The wound center also provides care for bone infections, diabetic foot and leg wounds, recurring wounds, surgical wounds, ulcers, including ischemic, pressure and venous stasis, and other conditions such as bites and infections.