Hyperbaric Oxygen in Cancer Treatment

Hyperbaric Oxygen in Cancer Treatment

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, HBO, or HBOT, or HBO2Tcan be an important part of a complementary and integrative cancer treatment programme; it can increase blood oxygen levels quickly to 100 per cent, it can presensitise cancer cells so that more are killed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy; it can also reduce the side-effects from both treatments.(writes Chris Woollams, M.A. Oxon).

A comprehensive review of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in cancer treatment

Cancer Tumors and hypoxia

Cancer tumours are well known to be hypoxic. In this low oxygen state, they thrive, increasing cancer cell survival, driving metastasis and angiogenesis and glycolytic metabolism. In a low oxygen state, their systems defend them against cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The use of Hyperbaric Oxygen shortly before chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy can cause the defensive systems of tumours to 'crash' in a state of Hyperoxia (rather like a computer might crash)  rendering the tumour cells less able to defend themselves. The result is that more cancer cells are killed by the chemotherapy or radiotherapy. And this is associated with greater decreases in tumour size and increased survival. 

I first researched Hyperbaric Oxygen as long ago as 2006 and, at CANCERactive, we have suggested its use with chemotherapy and radiotherapy ever since. More and more research, more and more results, have supported my early view that Hyperbaric oxygen makes chemotherapy and radiotherapy work better whilst generally reducing side-effects.

Diet is also important - poor diet can cause, and a good diet can reduce, hypoxia (1), and research shows exercise prior to chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have hypoxia-reducing effects (2). It can even result in oxygen increasing inside the cancer cell, damaging and killing it.

These are not just our research findings but those of a meta-review by two researchers from Bergen, Norway: Ingrid Moen and Linda Stuhr (3), who analysed approximately 90 studies between 2006 and 2014. They set out to discover if there was any truth in the pro-pharma rumour that Hyperbaric oxygen could spread cancer. They found none. In fact they found the opposite - hyperbaric oxygen significantly weakens the Hypoxia that defends the tumour from attack.

We also use herbs such as Berberine in cancer treatment as a chemo- or radio-sesitiser like HBOT - not surprisingly, berberine too protects against hypoxia (5). Chris Woollams, founder, CANCERactive.

The Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen in cancer treatment

i) After just two or three sessions within the first week, patients normally increase their blood oxygen levels to 99 or 100%. This is important because lowered levels can promote cancer aggression and metastasis. Some people tested have much lower levels - for example we have had patients who tested at 91% (breast cancer), 86% (prostate cancer) and 75% (lung cancer).

ii) The higher the oxygen content the more alkaline the blood (within limits) and the better the immune system performs.

iii) Hyperbaric Oxygen use prior to chemotherapy and radiotherapy (and IVC) produces better results. The private cancer center ChemoThermia finds exactly this too. 

iv) Hyperbaric Oxygen normally reduces the side-effects of these two treatments.

Thus Hyperbaric Oxygen has the potential to be a useful, and cheap, complementary aid to orthodox therapies. It also forms a part of an alternative treatment programme, with a ketogenic diet, IVC and/or PDT in a variety of clinics. 

There is also clear research in a number of studies that Hyperbaric Oxygen increases Chemotherapy uptake of a variety of chemo drugs (like taxol, carboplatin and 5FU) in cancers from lung to breast, prostate, leukaemia, glioma or bone and more. It ialso mproves performance of  Photodynamic Therapy.

There is also research that Hyperbaric oxygen with a Ketogenic Diet used together prolong survival times (4)

Research shows Hyperbaric Oxygen should be taken immediately before (for example, the afternoon before or the morning of) IV chemotherapy, and during chemotherapy treatment after day 4 or 5, for maximum effect.

There is even a cancer survivor story where a woman with Multiple Myeloma beat the disease using Hyperbaric Oxygen and curcumin.

Finally, in the UK, we are very lucky. Cancer patients can call the Multiple Sclerosis Society Charity and discover a chamber near their location. This makes it having Hyperbaric Oxygen treatment a lot cheaper than in America or Australia and certainly cheaper than heading abroad for expensive ozone therapy.

Further examples of research on Hyperbaric Oxygen 

1. In 1978, research showed HBOT could improve results from Radiotherapy. Research shows it was used to good effect with radiotherapy where it does seem to reduce tissue damage and side-effects. However, a Cochrane review of 19 randomised radiotherapy trial concluded that it improved survival and reduced tumour size but might increase side-effects (7) in head and neck cancers.

2. In 1995 research showed that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy can not only increase the level of oxygen in the body's healthy and radiation damaged tissue but HBOT will increase the oxygen levels in cancer tumours and damage them (6). Normal breathing could not do this.

3. Specialist cancer chemotherapy centre, ChemoThermia, use HBOT to improve the uptake of chemotherapy drugs and improve results.

4. On its own, in research with mice models, Hyperbaric Oxygen did NOT seem to offer any benefit in the fight against cancer. 

5. However, when used in combination with a Ketogenic Diet, albeit in mice models, the benefits were significant including increased survival (8). We would hypothesise from how it worked, that a Rainbow Diet would be just as good .

Practical use of Hyperbaric Oxygen

CANCERactive patients have found that a program of 3 sessions a week for 6 weeks, boosts blood oxygen levels to 100%. People talk of sailing through chemo, with no adverse effects. You can see and hear the story of how Zoe Wooton beat her Breast cancer on the Chris Woollams' video channel. 

But you don't have to have that many sessions. It depends on your starting point. Your blood oxygen levels are measured out of 100 and they should be 98, 99, or 100.

However, whatever the level, you can have HBO to make your chemo or radiotherapy work better and kill more cancer cells. You should have it before your chemo and during the program for maximum effectiveness. With Radiotherapy, the same sequence is true, but the healing program can go on for up to a year after the finish of radiotherapy.

Cancer patients considering HBO treatment should inform their doctor or oncologist in advance. It may not be advisable for people with heart or blood pressure problems, hearing problems, or if someone has damaged lungs. The oxygen is administered under pressure - some centers offer several different pressures. You should be completely honest with the centre about your exact health issue and your reasons for wanting hyperbaric oxygen. They should have a doctor who can advise you.

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What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment? The background.

HBOT chambers to treat deep sea divers suffering from decompression sickness (the bends) were first developed by the military in the 1940s. Pilots who climb or lose altitude too quickly and miners who surface too quickly may also experience this condition.

Decompression sickness involves a dangerous loss of oxygen in the blood stream and can be both painful and fatal.

By the 1960s it was realised that HBOT might be appropriate to other conditions and illnesses and it was used, for example, for carbon monoxide poisoning cases and other oxygen-depletion scenarios such as gangrene. It was thus shown to increase, not just blood oxygen levels, but tissue oxygen and improve tissue healing. 

There are now many other illnesses and conditions for which the idea of increasing cellular oxygen load is accepted as having significant benefits - for example ulceration (caused by radiotherapy, diabetes and so on), brain damage after accidents and plastic surgery. And, in some countries, cancer.

Otto Warburg

In 1931 Otto Warburg won a Nobel prize for explaining that oxygen was the enemy of the cancer cell. It kills them. Indeed, cancer cells thrive in an environment where oxygen is depleted (Hypoxia). The abnormal blood supplies created by tumours feature hypoxic pockets - where there is no oxygen and lower pH (a more acidic environment). These hypoxic pockets seem to protect the cancer cell from the outside world, leaving it alone to burn glucose (glycolysis) and flourish. The pH inside such tumours is highly acidic - around 6.2 pH.

Since that time many alternative cancer experts have pondered over ways of delivering oxygen to cancerous tissue in the hope of killing the cancer cells and restoring the tissue to a normal state. In our interview with Dr Contreras of The Oasis of Hope Hospital in Mexico, he told us how they were using a form of dialysis to deliver ozone  to the tissues. (Note - while oxygen is a double atom molecule O2, ozone is a triple atom molecule O3). He claimed that the system was in early stages of development, but did seem to extend the lives of cancer patients already tested, by months if not by years. Today there are well respected centres operating inside the USA that use ozone to treat cancer, as a part of their offering.

To quote from a 2012 review on the previous 8 years research into HBOT (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510426/): research has shown that HBO can be inhibitory and reduce cancer growth in certain cancer types.

Oxygen is a drug!

Believe it or not but oxygen has officially been declared a drug by the FDA in America who have stated that it must not be prescribed to treat anything other than those illnesses approved and for which there is evidence. For example, decompression sickness, anaemia, gangrene, skin grafts, soft tissue damage, burns, abscess in the head or brain, osteomyelitis. In effect, they have banned the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen to treat cancer. But then in 2011, they took steps to ban the use of intravenous vitamin C compounds, which can also increase cell oxygen levels! They don't seem to want you oxygenating your cancer cells at all. Will eating glutathione-rich vegetables be banned next? 

Could Oxygen therapy make matters worse? Can it promote cancer? This was an unproven theory back in 2005, but a 2012 review by Professors Ingrid Moerr and Linda Stuhr has shown that there is no foundation in research reviews from 2004 to 2012 that HBO acts as a stimulator of cancer or promotes recurrence (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510426/).

The reviewers add that on the other hand, there is evidence that HBO may have tumour-inhibitory effects in certain cancer subtypes

More Research on HBO as a Complementary Therapy for cancer

i) Radiotherapy

HBOT is currently used with cancer patients to reduce inflammation in bones and adjacent tissues where radiotherapy may cause damage - it seems to have an ability to reduce secondary radiation damage after radiotherapy. For example, one research study (HYPON) showed that the use of HBOT could reduce jaw bone damage in patients given radiotherapy for head and neck cancers. Radiotherapy damages surrounding tissues, not just cancer cells. 

This has actually been known for a number of years. A randomised clinical trial (Watson et al, British Journal of Radiology: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/361144) took place in 1978; and the same year there was a review in the Lancet which talked about significant improvement in survival when HBOT was used as a sensitiser with radiotherapy - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/81424

Other uses include the regeneration of blood vessels - blood supplies may be restricted to tissues and bones by the harmful action of radiotherapy; and oxygen treatment can help significantly. It has also been shown to help reduce secondary problems with both pelvic and bowel cancer. These damage reduction effects are important as up to 25 per cent of people undergoing radiotherapy can experience tissue damage according to the action group RAFGE - this is acknowledged in a clinical medicine piece: 

Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy effectively treats long-term damage from radiation therapy

on the UCLA Health website (http://www.uclahealth.org/body.cfm?id=502&action=detail&ref=675) and even in the UK where HBOT is slowly being added to the repertoire of orthodox medicine. At the end of this article you will see that the Royal Marsden were asking me to help find recruits to their phase III clinical trial - it was for people who experienced side effects after radiation for pelvic cancer.

ii) Lymphoedema

There is also evidence that HBOT may help people with lymphoedema following breast cancer and lymph nodule surgery. Quite simply, oxygen therapy aids healing and patients in research talk of reduced swelling and less pain, with a softening of the damaged tissue.

What happens during HBOT?

People can be treated individually or in groups depending upon the size of the chamber. Inside, the pure oxygen is administered at pressures 1.5 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure. Treatment time is usually about 90 minutes and only cotton clothing may be worn. There are treatment centres throughout the UK and you might contact the British Hyperbaric Association for their views on the benefits and safety of this treatment in cancer..

Side effects may include claustrophobia, fatigue, headaches, ear problems and nausea. It is occasionally possible the myopia (short sightedness) occurs, and people with lung disease may experience a collapsed lung or worse; heart patients may have symptoms worsened. It is not recommended for pregnant women.

Cancer patients taking drugs such as doxorubicin, cisplatin or bleomycin are advised not to use HBOT.

HBO as an alternative cancer treatment

Oxygen therapy, ozone therapy, the use of hydrogen peroxide and even the simple ingestion of more foods containing glutathione all have one theoretical aim: To deliver more oxygen to the mitochondria inside the cell. It is the mitochondria (the power stations) that cease their normal job of burning carbohydrate in the presence of oxygen to produce energy (the Krebs Cycle) in cancer cells. Instead cancer cells produce energy by inefficiently burning glucose in the absence of oxygen in the main cytoplasm. This glycolysis typifies a cancer cell.

While the theory is great, (get oxygen back inside the cell and the cancer will die) the research to date has been virtually non-existent. The primary problem, as Contreras told me, is the delivery system. Increasing the oxygen levels in the blood does not necessarily increase them in the cells. Also, the latest research is showing that even when you get oxygen back inside the cells, it doesnt particularly re-ignite the mitochondrial power burners. Researchers in Alberta are looking at a compound called DCA, which they believe can do this.

HBO as a complementary therapy

Research published in June 2013 by researchers from the University of South Florida and the Boston College using mice models proved very interesting:

In mice with metastatic cancer and using a Ketogenic Diet and Hyperbaric Oxygen in combination and alone, with control groups, the researchers reported that a "Ketogenic Diet alone significantly decreased blood glucose, slowed tumour progression and increased mean survival time by 56.7% in mice with systemic metastatic cancer. While Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy alone did not influence cancer progression, combining the Ketogenic Diet with Hyperbaric Oxygen elicited a significant decrease in blood glucose, tumour growth rate and a 77% increase in mean survival times compared to the controls.

So let us be very clear. These highly qualified researchers (Angela M Poff, Csilla Ari, Thomas N Seyfried and Dr Dominic P D' Agostino) conclude that on its own Hyperbaric Oxygen had no effect on the oxygen-devoid, acidic hypoxic pockets nor on the glucose burning cancer cells. But in combination with a Ketogenic Diet, where the body is starved of glucose, Hyperbaric Oxygen had a significant complementary effect, and it increased survival times.

Certainly, that is also what is being shown with chemotherapy. On its own HBOT does little. With chemo, it produces better results AND less side-effects.

Further Studies on HBO

Further studies are patchy at best. There are studies with breast cancer, prostate cancer and brain tumours (largely in animal models) that show prolonged survival and a reduction in tumour size, some when in combination with drugs. There are studies involving mice who have been induced with cancer to give them oral mucosal carcinoma. Hyperbaric oxygen reduced the level of cancer, preventing some mice developing the disease. However, in some cases where the mice already had the disease, oxygen seemed to make matters worse. (The effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on oral mucosal carcinoma; Terry McMillan, Karen Callhoun et al).

Patients with brain tumours may well derive benefit. Treatment using HBO with brain damage has definitely shown promise, and this has now been extended to brain cancer. In a 2006 Clinical Trial in Japan, brain tumour patients receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy experienced longer survival times and reduced side effects when using HBO. (Ogawa et al). In 2007 a second clinical trial showed extended survival times with reduced side effects using HBO with just radiotherapy in glioma patients (Kohshi et al). Now (July 2011) researchers at the Long Island Brain Tumour Centre are try to replicate those studies again in a Phase II clinical trial with gliomas. Along with the HBOT, they are using radiotherapy and temozolomide (http://clinicaltrial.gov/ct2/show/NCT00936052?term=HBO&rank=1).

Researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State University have shown that the herb artimesia vulgaris, or Wormwood, kills a cancer cells in conjunction with Hyperbaric Oxygen in early research in the 1990s. They describe wormwood as an important antimalarial drug.

Wormwood acts by reacting with iron in a cell to form a free-radical which kills the cell. Malaria parasites and cancer cells are high in iron.

New research in 2011 on a culture of leukaemia cells has shown that wormwood acts to kill about 15 per cent of cancer cells in the laboratory experiments. And they found almost the same 15 per cent figure when using HBO. Combining the two treatments say a 38 per cent reduction in cancer growth. Professor of bioengineering, Henry Lai said We only measured up to 48 hours. Over longer time periods we expect the synergistic effects to be even more dramatic.

Importantly, there are a number of cancer centres in Germany that currently use Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy to treat cancer, sometimes as a single stand-alone therapy, but more usually in conjunction with other treatments, including either complementary therapies or chemotherapy. And, they claim excellent results. 

One woman in the UK with myeloma, for whom the drugs had failed and her cancer had progressed, switch to Hyperbaric oxygen and 8 gms of curcumin a day. The cancer stabilised and she has been this way for over 5 years.

Go to: Hyperbaric oxygen and curcumin stabilise myeloma 

Trawling the web I found quotes such as:

        I utilize mild Hyperbaric Therapy (mHBT) in all stages of cancer; upon detection, as well as pre and post surgery, pre, post and during chemo and radiation. In fact if chemotherapy is used in conjunction with mHBT, the chemotherapy dose must be reduced. The mHBT will potentate any primary cancer treatment. mHBT is the best cancer prevention and cancer remission therapy out there, bar none. US Doctor, Bergeron, Rhett, MD

        By increasing the oxygen environment to the cancer cells, it makes them less virulent and in many instances destroys them. (Yutsis, Pavel I., MD, Oxygen to the Rescue)

It is important to note that there are studies with leukemia, bladder and cervical cancers where HBOT on its own seems to have no effect:(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510426/)

So is it an alternative cancer treatment on its own?

Hyperbaric Oxygen can seem to work on its own. Cancer protects itself with hypoxia - HBOT turns this to Hyperoxia. A thorough review of different cancer, different chemo drugs, radiotherapy, and HBOT working on its own can be found in the meta-study produced in 2012 by Ingrid Moen and Linda Stuhr (3).

There are centres in Germany claiming excellent results with HBO, and there are cancer experts in the USA lauding its potential. The Seyfried/ D'Agostino study concluded that A Ketogenic Diet and HBOT produce significant anti-cancer effects when combined in a natural model of systemic metastatic cancer. Our evidence that these therapies should be investigated as potential non-toxic treatments or adjuvant therapies (complementary therapies).

And research shows Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy clearly provides real benefits as a complementary therapy when used with radiotherapy and lymphodema to reduce side-effects and promote healing.

The great thing is that we know Hyperbaric oxygen is a healing treatment - there is already significant evidence for a variety of illnesses. And we know that it is an all-over-body treatment, just as cancer is an all-over-body disease. It already has staunch supporters in countries like Germany and Japan.

Cancer patients should seriously consider using hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Side-effects of HBO?

According to websites in America (UCLA) and the UK, people may experience light headedness but this is temporary. Patients using platinum based drugs, patients with heart or blood pressure problems and patients with lung disease MUST consult their health experts and maybe turned away by the HBO centre. At CANCERactive, we always warn patients with lung cancer to consult with their oncologist.

How do you find a UK Hyperbaric Oxygen Centre today?

Actually access to Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment in the UK is easier than you think. ‘Oxygen treatment’ is actually very accessible at low cost right across Britain - you don’t have to wait for your oncology unit to get a Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber! (Although rumour has it that the Royal Marsden are launching one!).
Scattered across the UK are 60 Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centres, all independent charities, which offer therapies and support to people with MS. Nearly all provide access to oxygen treatment (also known as oxygen therapy) which has been shown to significantly alleviate the symptoms of MS and improve quality of life. Most centres are also able to treat people with other conditions, depending on available capacity. Costs vary from £10 to £45 per one hour session.

The centres ask for donations, or set their own charges for treatment which are relatively inexpensive due to their charitable status. Treatments are delivered in multi-place barochambers (low-pressure chambers), which are pressurised to between 0.5 – 3 times normal atmospheric pressure, and a session lasts approximately 90 minutes. Referrals are not required, so any person can go to their local centre and access the treatment. Over 2½ million sessions have been delivered since the centres were founded 30 years ago, to a standard approved by the Department of Health.
According to the MS Charity experts, besides MS and cancer, other conditions already treated in the centres include leg ulcers, strokes, COPD, cerebral palsy, autism, wounds, migraines, sports injuries, broken bones – the list is nearly endless.  Any condition which results in inflammation in the body can benefit from oxygen treatment. We all breathe oxygen all the time, but when we are ill we can use a chamber to increase the dosage of oxygen, delivering more to damaged areas in the body and stimulating the healing process. Oxygen is our body’s antibiotic; it controls over 8000 genes, and a course of 20 sessions increases our own stem cells eightfold. 
The locations of the MS Therapy Centres can be found at www.msntc.org.uk, or by calling 0845 367 0977.

The view a list of some European Hyperbaric Oxygen Centres to consider, please click this link: /cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=3134&Title=Some

The Bottom Line

Hyperbaric Oxygen can benefit patients having chemotherapy and radiotherapy. More cancer cells get killed; the patient has less side-effects. It amplifies the benefits of IVC, PDT and a ketogenic diet. 

HBO also helps in cases of lymphoedema.



1. Diet Matters in Hypoxia - https://www.hormonesmatter.com/diet-induced-pseudo-hypoxia-hypertension/

2. Exercise and Hypoxia - https://www.canceractive.com/article/exercise-boost-chemo-effectiveness

3.Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and cancer—a review; Ingrid Moen, Linda E. B. Stuhr, Target Oncol. 2012; 7(4): 233–242. Published online 2012 Oct 2. 

4. Hyperbaric Oxygen plus Ketogenic Diet increase survival times -  https://www.canceractive.com/article/ketogenic-diet-and-hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy-in-combination-increase-cancer-survival

5. Berberine inhibits the expression of hypoxia induction factor-1alpha and increases the radiosensitivity of prostate cancer; Qu Zhang et al; Diagnostic Pathology, 27 May 2014

6. The mechanisms by which hyperbaric oxygen and carbogen improve tumour oxygenation; D.M.Brizel et al; Br J Cancer. 1995 Nov;72(5):1120-4.  doi: 10.1038/bjc.1995.474.

7. Hyperbaric oxygenation for tumour sensitisation to radiotherapy; Michael H. Bennett et al; Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018; 2018(4): CD005007.

8. The ketogenic diet and hyperbaric oxygen therapy prolong survival in mice with systemic metastatic cancer; Angela M. Poff et al; PLoS One. 2013 Jun 5;8(6):e65522.  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065522.  Print 2013.


People reading this article also read (Click on links):


Dr Contreras and the Oasis of Hope

The Ketogenic Diet


Hyperbaric Oxygen in Cancer Treatment
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