Hospital's bid to ease the pain of cancer patients

A state-of-the-art piece of equipment at a Norfolk hospital, normally used to treat divers with the bends, may be help to help cancer patients suffering from the side effects of radiotherapy.

A piece of equipment at a Norfolk hospital that is used normally to treat divers with the bends may be able to help cancer patients to over-come the side-effects of radiotherapy.

The James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston is one of eight specialist sites that will be involved in a national hyperbaric oxygen therapy trial.

Doctors hope the 16-tonne chamber's pure oxygen will be able to alleviate any unpleasant side-effects associated with radiotherapy for cancer in the pelvic region.

Dr Pieter Bothma, lead clinician at the Gorleston chamber, will see if the 30pc of patients who have side-effects such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps and frequent bowel movements will benefit from using it.

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The national clinical trials will involve 75 patients in the London, Cardiff, Chichester, Hull, Plymouth and Wirral areas.

Prof John Yarnold, from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital, said: "It is very difficult for patients who have already suffered through cancer and radiotherapy to be left with these debilitating side-effects.

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"We hope to answer once and for all whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy will improve their quality of life."

The James Paget chamber was delivered in late 2007 through a private/public initiative with London Hyperbaric and Wound Healing Centres. It was officially opened in April 2008, treats up to 100 patients a year and is the only one of its type in the east of England.

As well as helping bends victims, it is used to treat patients from across the region with conditions such as difficult-to-heal wounds and circulat-ion problems resulting for diabetes.

Hyperbaric chambers are also at the cutting edge of sports medicine.

Premiership footballers, such as Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, have used them them to recover in time for important matches.

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