|Jaw weakened by radiation oncology therapy proved a concern for required treatment.
LANGHORNE, Pa., September 28, 2011 – When Dr. Milton Schwartz, a general practitioner in practice for more than 40 years, experienced a pain in his tooth and was in need of dental surgery, he faced an unusual obstacle. Dr. Schwartz had been treated for cancer at the base of his tongue in 2002 and the eight weeks of radiation therapy he received had weakened the bone structure in his jaw. So much so that his dentist and oral surgeon feared that extracting the tooth had the potential to shatter his jaw bone and create a dry socket that might not heal.
Dr. Schwartz is grateful to be cancer-free. He also is grateful that his dentist and oral surgeon were familiar with late radiation tissue injury (LRTI), a condition that can develop months and even years after radiation treatment for cancer. “No matter how pinpoint and accurate the radiation treatments are, radiation inevitably damages some normal cells and blood vessels as it works to destroy the tumor cells,” Dr. Schwartz says.
In his case, the damage to the small arteries in his jaw as a result of his radiation therapy reduced the circulation to that area, depriving it of oxygen and thereby weakening the bone structure. Furthermore, with a limited oxygen supply to the bone, any trauma to the area, including oral surgery to extract a tooth, had the potential to create a wound that would not heat.
Because it has the ability to improve blood flow, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is often recommended for bone and tissue injury resulting from radiation therapy. Dr. Schwartz is very familiar with the positive effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment, having frequently referred patients with non-healing wounds to the St. Mary Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center. “Hyperbaric treatment is an especially helpful tool for my patient with diabetes or arteriosclerosis who have trouble with wounds that won’t heal,” says Dr. Schwartz.
After consultations with his oncologist, Dr. Robert Reilly, of Langhorne, and Dr. David Brotman, Medical Director of the St. Mary Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center, Dr. Schwartz agreed to the recommended course of HBOT. He was scheduled for 20 treatments (5 days a week over a 4-week period) before his surgery to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels within his jaw and thereby strengthening the bone, and 10 treatments (5 days a week over a 2-week period) following the tooth extraction to promote healing and increase his ability to fight infection. “Hyperbaric treatment is effective anytime circulation is compromised,” says Dr. Reilly. “I personally believe more patients could benefit from it.”
Dr. Schwartz recalls that his experience in the hyperbaric chamber was unique. He would arrive daily – Monday through Friday – at the center at 7:45 a.m. and receive treatment in the single-capacity hyperbaric chamber from 8 to 9 a.m. He relates that it was like being in the cockpit of an airplane. “You climb up and go in, and the lid is closed and latched. The top is clear and there’s a television about a foot away – I watched a lot of Law and Order,” Dr. Schwartz says. The 6-foot, 1- inch, 175-pound physician had great confidence in the technicians who monitored him closely the entire time he was in the chamber. “They were most gracious and diligent,” he says. “I felt very comfortable.”
The procedures went smoothly and proved successful in strengthening his jawbone. Dr. Schwartz had the troublesome tooth extracted and the extraction site healed without complications.
Dr. Schwartz also can appreciate that this advanced healing therapy is a valuable resource in our community. “I am very pleased we have this kind of major equipment in Bucks County,” he says. “It saved me two hours of travel time from having to use an HBOT facility in the city. The center, run by my colleagues, offers very personalized service. I’ve dealt with St. Mary since it opened in the ‘70s, and every patient is treated with the same terrific attitude St. Mary fosters,” he says.
St. Mary Medical Center’s off-site Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center opened in January 2010 in the Cornerstone Executive Suites, off Woodbourne Road near the Oxford Valley Mall, in Langhorne. The 5,000-square-foot outpatient center offers advanced healing therapies, proven clinical protocols, and individual patient treatment plans using a disease-management approach to healing wounds that have resisted conventional treatment. Physicians, nurses, and professional staff at the center are specially trained and certified in wound-healing management. Although people with diabetes are especially at risk, chronic and non-healing wounds can result from a number of factors, including poor circulation, late radiation tissue injury trauma, vein disease, and immobility (which can lead to pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores).
“The St. Mary Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center can make a real difference for those whose quality of life is affected by the complications of head-to-heal wounds and injury sites,” says Dr. David Brotman, Medical Director for the wound center. “Our center maintains strict adherence to proper medical indications for HBOT, and Dr. Schwartz’ condition is one of the most studied and supported conditions for this therapy. Our wound-management specialists provide the highest level of advanced care and our center has earned national recognition for achieving outstanding patient outcomes.”
St. Mary Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center is located in the Cornerstone Executive Suites, 1 Cornerstone Drive, Suite 500, Langhorne, PA 19047. To schedule an appointment, please call 215.710.HEAL (215.710.4325). A physician referral may be required.