Beyond Conventional Cancer Care Harnessing the Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Beyond Conventional Cancer Care Harnessing the Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Through various studies and real world examples, Hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) therapy has been shown to be a safe complementary option for cancer care patients, regardless of the stage of their illness.

In the initial stages of cancer treatment, HBOT serves as a valuable sensitizer, potentially increasing the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. As the disease progresses, it aids in alleviating the late side effects of cancer treatment, such as radiation injury.

Additionally, HBO therapy contributes to bolstering the immune system and promoting regenerative processes, thereby significantly influencing the overall outcome of the disease. Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in enhancing the quality of life for individuals recovering from cancer. This article explores the various benefits and potential of HBOT as an adjuvant therapy for cancer patients.

The incidence of cancer is rising globally. There are many reasons, like increasing average lifespan and worsening of the environment. As people live longer, cancer has emerged as a major health threat. In developed economies, cancer is the second most common cause of death after circulatory diseases. In fact, in some developed nations, it is even the leading cause of death1.

There is a reason why deaths due to cancer are still so common. Cancer remains one of the most challenging diseases to treat. One may develop cancer of almost any organ. It occurs due to mutation and uncontrolled growth of tissues. Moreover, cancer occurs due to different kinds of mutations in individuals. It means that what worked for one may not work for another. Therefore, every cancer case is unique.

Though cancer treatment has changed much over the years, still surgical removal of cancer tissues, killing cancer cells with radiation therapy, and chemotherapy forms the backbone of cancer care. These treatments work in most cases. However, treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy also kill many healthy cells, causing many side effects. Nonetheless, these methods are highly effective.

Other treatments may be cancer-specific, like bone marrow transplants, immune therapy, and targeted drug therapy. Additionally, doctors may use therapies that enhance the effectiveness of cancer treatments, and this is where hyperbaric oxygen therapy comes into play.

Understanding Hyperbaric Therapy For Cancer

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been in use for quite some time. It was first popularized in the mid of 20th century. Initially, it was created to manage severe infections. However, its use became less common with the advent of numerous antibiotics2.

Nonetheless, researchers continued to study its role in managing other ailments, especially considering that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO therapy) is suitable for boosting regenerative processes. In addition, in the last few decades, researchers have discovered many other benefits of HBO2.

In HBOT, patients are given pure oxygen at a pressure higher than atmospheric pressure for a short time. This results in higher tissue oxygen perfusion. Such sudden oxygen levels upsurge in tissues may have some unique benefits, like tissues may start producing bioactive compounds, and growth factors, promoting healing and helping fight various health issues.

Of course, doctors give pure oxygen for one to two hours in a session. As more prolonged exposure to pure oxygen may be harmful. Oxygen is a highly reactive gas. The purpose of HBO therapy is just to increase the oxygen level in the blood. It also intends to boost oxygen supply to certain areas of the body where oxygen supply is low.

The good thing about HBO therapy is that it is pretty safe when given by experienced therapists. It rarely causes any side effects. However, in rare cases, it may cause some issues in highly sensitive individuals to high oxygen levels.

How hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps overcome cancer

This is a relatively more complex question, as how HBOT helps overcome cancer is not fully understood. Nonetheless, science knows that it works and seems to help in multiple ways.

Tumour cells or cancerous tissues grow wildly and relatively fast. They grow uncontrollably like weeds, killing the organ they affect and readily spreading to various body parts (metastasis). In addition, these cells have a higher ability to consume glucose and are rich in blood vessels. 

Since they have an excellent blood supply and higher metabolic rate than healthier tissues and grow faster than healthier tissues, it may appear that providing them with more oxygen may be rather a counterproductive step.

However, this is not the case. Studies suggest that cancer or tumour has low oxygen supply or hypoxia (possibly due to high demand). Increasing the oxygen supply deep inside the tumour enables the body to fight cancer cells more efficiently.

A review of studies done between 2004 to 2012 found that there is sound evidence that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has tumour-inhibitory action, and tumour oxygenation appears to be the reason for the suppression of cancer growth3.

Not only that, but HBO also increases the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Thus, the National Cancer Institute describes Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a type of radio-sensitizing agent and a type of chemo-sensitizing agent4.

All this means that HBOT may potentially help fight cancer by suppressing cancer growth and boosting the body’s ability to fight cancer. However, it will work even better when combined with treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy. This is really good news since it means that it fits perfectly well into traditional cancer care and does not interfere with the those treatments.

Of course, apart from reducing hypoxic regions in a tumour and increasing sensitivity to other treatments, HBOT also works in many other ways. This is the subject of intense and ongoing research. Thus, since HBOT provides an excessive oxygen supply, it may disrupt the growth of new blood vessels inside the tumour (disrupt angiogenesis). Further, oxidative stress caused in tumour cells may also help kill cancer cells.

Additionally, researchers say that HBO significantly alters the tumour microenvironment at multiple levels, which results in a significant anti-cancer effect of the therapy.5

Hyperbaric therapy - Benefits on Quality Of Life For Cancer Care Patients

Those who have undergone surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy have many health issues. Radiation and chemotherapy especially cause many short and long-term harms. These treatments are highly toxic to the body and cause the death of healthy cells, too.

People often need a long time to recover from the side effects of these treatments, and HBO provides much hope.

Just take an example of late radiation tissue injury. Some individuals may develop complications of radiotherapy months after the last radiotherapy session. They might develop tumours on the sides of the neck, head, breast, pelvis, chest, etc. Such tumours may not heal even with the best treatment. However, studies show that HBO may help in such instances.

One of the most extensive systemic reviews published in the Cochrane Library found sufficient evidence to show that HBO can help with late radiation tissue injury6.

In most instances, even if cancer has been overcome, people treated for cancer continue to experience many issues. For example, one may require implants, plastic surgery, and other treatments to minimize the problems caused by cancer care treatment.

Studies show that HBO can help improve the quality of life by helping with various cancer-related treatment complications. Thus, it may boost regenerative processes. In addition, it may improve the functioning of various organs. It may also help ensure that the body retains implants like dental implants after the treatment of oral cancer.

Similarly, take the example of prostate cancer, which is treated with great success if diagnosed early. Many people diagnosed with prostate cancer have to undergo radiation therapy. However, radiation therapy causes many long-term issues due to damage to the adjacent tissues. Thus, those who have undergone prostate treatment are prone to radiation cystitis. They continue to experience painful complications.

A clinical study shows that HBO therapy may help reduce the frequency and severity of such side effects of radiation therapy7.

Other benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in cancer patients

When it comes to cancer care, it is essential to understand that even if someone has overcome cancer, it still results in a reduced lifespan. The lower lifespan of those who have recovered from cancer is due to damage to various organs, harm caused by cancer therapy, reduced immunity, and a decline in regenerative processes.

It means that HBO has a role even in post-cancer recovery. It will reduce the risk of opportunistic infections, boost immunity, help recover faster, prevent bacterial infection, reduce the risk of issues like heart disease and stroke, and more. HBO may also slow down ageing in those recovering from cancer.

Are there any contraindications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in cancer?

HBO can be quite helpful in many cases and may even be lifesaving for some patients when used properly as a part of anti-cancer care along with other traditional treatment methods. However, it may not be suitable for certain patients.

For example, it may not be good for those living with advanced lung cancer, as such patients are at an increased risk of lung collapse. Similarly, those who have undergone thoracic surgery cannot be given HBOT, as it involves providing oxygen at higher pressures. Other contraindications could be pneumothorax and uncontrolled hyperthermia.8

HBO is highly safe when done by trained and experienced hands. Still, it may cause some issues like barotrauma to the ear, sinus pathology, changes in vision, accumulation of fluid in the lungs, and changes in the brain’s electrical activity8. Therefore, always discuss with your healthcare provider about the possible side effects, as identifying them early is essential.

To sum up, HBO therapy is quite a safe adjuvant therapy that is good for managing cancer patients at any stage. In the early cancer treatment stage, it may act as a sensitizer and enhance the efficacy of radio and chemotherapies. At later stages, it may help overcome late side effects of cancer care, like late radiation injury.

Further, it may help by boosting immunity and enhancing regenerative processes, thus significantly impacting the disease outcome. Finally, it may substantially improve the quality of life of those recovering from cancer.


  1. Causes of death statistics. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  2. Smolle C, Lindenmann J, Kamolz L, Smolle-Juettner FM. The History and Development of Hyperbaric Oxygenation (HBO) in Thermal Burn Injury. Medicina (Kaunas). 2021;57(1):49. doi:10.3390/medicina57010049
  3. Moen I, Stuhr LEB. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and cancer—a review. Targ Oncol. 2012;7(4):233-242. doi:10.1007/s11523-012-0233-x
  4. Definition of hyperbaric oxygen – NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms – NCI. Published February 2, 2011. Accessed April 24, 2023.
  5. Daruwalla J, Christophi C. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Malignancy: A Review. World J Surg. 2006;30(12):2112-2131. doi:10.1007/s00268-006-0190-6
  6. Bennett MH, Feldmeier J, Hampson NB, Smee R, Milross C. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for late radiation tissue injury. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016;(4). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005005.pub4
  7. Nakada T, Nakada H, Yoshida Y, et al. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Radiation Cystitis in Patients with Prostate Cancer: A Long-Term Follow-Up Study. UIN. 2012;89(2):208-214. doi:10.1159/000338910
  8. Sen S, Sen S. Therapeutic effects of hyperbaric oxygen: integrated review. Med Gas Res. 2021;11(1):30-33. doi:10.4103/2045-9912.310057

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