WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.
Tissue or skin necrosis is one of the risks associated with a mastectomy (or any surgery), which is typically a result of loss/interruption of blood vessels feeding the tissue. Read more about it in my previous post: Tissue necrosis.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, most commonly known to treat decompression sickness related to deep diving, is sometimes used for treatment of wounds or necrosis. I was not familiar with this type of treatment before entering this community and even now, being completely engrossed in it, I don’t see it mentioned often.
In a nutshell
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves the breathing of pure oxygen while in a sealed chamber that has been pressurized at 1-1/2 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure. – American Cancer Society
What that means is: you get into a clear plastic tube that is sealed, the air pressure is raised (while your ears constantly “pop”), pure oxygen is pumped into the tube, and you get to watch two hours of TV while the oxygen works its magic. I renewed my Netflix subscription just for the occasion!
Why do it?
The main benefit to hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wounds is esentially faster healing. Here are some key points from WoldWideWounds.com:
- Oxygen used under pressure can assist wound healing
- It can be used successfully in wounds such as failing flaps and necrotising soft tissue
- HBO therapy provides oxygen needed to stimulate and support wound healing where there may be insufficient supply
- It combats clinical infection
- It is a relatively safe non-invasive therapy
Does it work?
I had 14 treatments total and can definitely see changes in the necrotic area. I am unsure, however, how much of it can be attributed to the hyperbaric oxygen therapy versus regular rate of healing, diet, exercise, etc. Both my plastic surgeon and the wound care doctor agree that I will still have scarring and “discoloration” of the tissue underneath the necrotic skin, but will not need any skin grafting or other forms of treatment. My breast surgeon thinks that HBOT saved my nipple. So discoloration I can deal with, as long as I can avoid additional surgery and get to keep Dusky, the rebel left nipple!
These are earlier pics of changes in the wound over the first two weeks post-op, pre-HBOT:
This is what Dusky looked like after ten HBO treatments and four weeks post prophylactic bilateral mastectomy:
This is after the scab fell off two months post-op. Unfortunately, I did lose the tip of my nipple. Yup, just the tip. It took another couple of months for the pigment to return.