DEAR DR. ROACH: I would like your opinion on the use of hyperbaric oxygen for cancer treatment. I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2011, treated with chemo and was in remission with a recurrence in 2012. I’ve completed chemo again, and I am now back in remission. I’ve been advised to try the above treatment. I will have to travel to another state, because it is not offered in mine. It would be no trouble to travel if this would help. Thank you. — J.S.
ANSWER: I am pretty sure it wasn’t your oncologist who recommended the hyperbaric oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen is the use of a compression chamber and pure oxygen to raise the oxygen levels very high. Hyperbaric oxygen is used for many conditions, including decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning and gangrene, but there is no evidence that it is helpful in treating cancer. There is no evidence that it doesn’t help, either. However, there is a reason to be concerned in your particular case: Some of the chemotherapy you may have received, such as bleomycin, platinum and doxorubicin, can react badly to hyperbaric oxygen and cause serious lung disease, even months after chemotherapy.
Everybody wants an edge to make it a little more likely to cure cancer, but I don’t think hyperbaric oxygen is helpful, and in your case, it may be harmful.
DEAR DR. ROACH: What is bipolar? Is it a disease? What causes the chemical imbalance in the brain? Is there a cure for this problem? I would truly appreciate any answers. — K.B.P.
ANSWER: Bipolar affective disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is a psychiatric illness manifested by periods of mania, which is the term for a persistently elevated mood. Usually there also are periods of profound depression. A subtype, type II bipolar disorder, has only depressive symptoms, with no full-blown mania. It is one of the most serious of the psychiatric illnesses, and while there is no cure, there is effective treatment for most people.
Nobody knows what the exact cause is at the level of the brain. Research studies suggest that calcium channels in the brain may play an important role, and lithium has been shown to be involved at a molecular level in the brain, and is one of the most important treatments of bipolar affective disorder. There is a strong genetic component; many people with this condition have a family history.
The National Institutes of Mental Health offers a free brochure about bipolar disease at www.nimh.nih.gov, or you can call 866-615-6464.
DR. ROACH SAYS: A few months ago, I published a column from a reader complaining of “zigzags” in the eyes. I opined that this was likely floaters, a normally benign condition of the eyes, but many readers wrote in to ask me to publish an alternate possibility — the aura of a migraine headache, which can occur without the actual headache.
The zigzag of a floater slowly floats across the visual field, moving in response to eye movement. The zigzag of an aura often appears as a flickering or scintillating light, but can appear differently to different people. I appreciate the helpful advice.
Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.