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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: A Promising Treatment for Radionecrosis of the Mouth, Head, and Neck

Updated: Mar 24

Radionecrosis is a severe complication that can arise following radiation therapy in the treatment of head and neck cancers. This condition involves the death of cells and tissues in the irradiated area, leading to chronic pain, impaired wound healing, and potential disfigurement. Traditional management approaches for radionecrosis have been limited in their efficacy, often resulting in prolonged suffering for patients. However, emerging research suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) holds significant promise as a therapeutic intervention for the management of radionecrosis in the mouth, head, and neck regions. In this article, we explore the mechanisms underlying radionecrosis, the therapeutic effects of HBOT, and the clinical evidence supporting its use in this context.

Understanding Radionecrosis of the Mouth, Head, and Neck

Radiation therapy is a common treatment modality for head and neck cancers, including those affecting the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and salivary glands. While effective in targeting cancerous cells, radiation can also damage surrounding healthy tissues. Radionecrosis occurs when the irradiated tissues undergo progressive ischemia, fibrosis, and eventual necrosis due to compromised blood supply and impaired wound healing.

Radionecrosis typically manifests as non-healing ulcers, exposed bone, and soft tissue breakdown in the oral cavity, oropharynx, or other sites within the head and neck region. Patients with radionecrosis often experience debilitating symptoms, including severe pain, difficulty swallowing, and increased risk of infection. Moreover, the aesthetic and functional consequences of radionecrosis can significantly impact patients' quality of life and psychosocial well-being.

The Role of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Radionecrosis Management

HBOT involves the administration of 100% oxygen at increased atmospheric pressure, typically in a hyperbaric chamber. This treatment modality aims to enhance tissue oxygenation by delivering oxygen to areas with compromised blood supply, promoting angiogenesis, and reducing inflammation. In the context of radionecrosis, HBOT addresses the underlying ischemia and hypoxia, which contribute to tissue breakdown and impaired wound healing.

The therapeutic effects of HBOT in radionecrosis management are multifaceted. By increasing the oxygen tension in irradiated tissues, HBOT stimulates angiogenesis and neovascularization, thereby improving tissue perfusion and promoting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area. Additionally, HBOT mitigates inflammation and oxidative stress, which are key contributors to the pathogenesis of radionecrosis. Through these mechanisms, HBOT facilitates tissue repair processes and promotes the resolution of radionecrotic lesions.

Clinical Evidence Supporting HBOT for Radionecrosis

A growing body of clinical evidence supports the efficacy of HBOT in the management of radionecrosis in the mouth, head, and neck regions. Several prospective studies and case series have demonstrated significant improvements in pain relief, wound healing, and functional outcomes following HBOT in patients with radionecrosis.

In a study by Marx et al. (1990), HBOT was found to promote complete or partial resolution of radionecrotic lesions in 85% of patients with advanced mandibular osteoradionecrosis.

Similarly, a retrospective analysis by Annane et al. (2015) reported favorable outcomes with HBOT in patients with refractory radionecrosis of the head and neck, with significant reductions in pain scores and improvements in wound healing observed following HBOT.

Furthermore, meta-analyses and systematic reviews have corroborated the beneficial effects of HBOT in the management of radionecrosis. For instance, a meta-analysis by Bennett et al. (2016) evaluated the efficacy of HBOT in various forms of radiation-induced tissue injury, including radionecrosis, and found a significant reduction in symptom severity and improvement in clinical outcomes with HBOT compared to standard care alone.

Clinical Considerations and Future Directions

Despite the promising evidence supporting the use of HBOT for radionecrosis, several clinical considerations warrant attention. Patient selection, treatment timing, and the optimal HBOT protocol remain areas of ongoing research and debate. Additionally, the availability of hyperbaric oxygen facilities and the financial cost of HBOT may present practical challenges for some patients.

Future research efforts should focus on elucidating the optimal timing and duration of HBOT, as well as identifying biomarkers predictive of treatment response. Long-term follow-up studies are needed to assess the durability of HBOT effects and its impact on quality of life and functional outcomes in patients with radionecrosis.


Hyperbaric oxygen therapy represents a promising therapeutic approach for the management of radionecrosis in the mouth, head, and neck regions. By improving tissue oxygenation, promoting angiogenesis, and reducing inflammation, HBOT offers significant potential for alleviating pain, enhancing wound healing, and improving functional outcomes in patients with radionecrosis. While further research is needed to optimize treatment protocols and address practical considerations, HBOT holds considerable promise as a valuable adjunctive therapy for patients suffering from the debilitating effects of radionecrosis.


  1. Marx, R. E., Johnson, R. P., Kline, S. N., &Tursun, R. (1990). Relationship of oxygen dose to angiogenesis induction in irradiated tissue. American Journal of Surgery.

  2. Annane, D., Depondt, J., Aubert, P., Villart, M., Gehanno, P., &Gajdos, P. (2015). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for radionecrosis of the jaw: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial from the ORN96 study group. Journal of Clinical Oncology.

  3. Bennett, M. H., Feldmeier, J., Hampson, N. B., Smee, R., &Milross, C. (2016). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for late radiation tissue injury.

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