According to a study on hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), solid tumors often contain areas subjected to acute or chronic hypoxia, though with variable severity in patients both within and among different tumor types. [1]

Although severe or prolonged hypoxia is deleterious, adaptation to the hypoxic microenvironment has allowed cancer cells to survive and proliferate in this hostile environment. Tumor hypoxia develops due to the structural and functional abnormalities of the tumor vasculature since cancer growth often overrides the ability of the cancer vasculature to adapt to the increasing oxygen demand.

Traditionally, hypoxia was thought of as a factor limiting cancer growth by reducing the ability of cells to divide. However, more recently, hypoxia has proven to be a causative factor in many pathophysiological events, including cancer progression.

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Hyperbaric oxygen can be used to overcome hypoxia. HBO is based on the administration of 100 percent oxygen at higher than normal atmospheric pressure. HBO treatment enhances the amount of dissolved oxygen in the plasma, thereby increasing O2 tissue delivery independent of hemoglobin.

“Hypoxia is a critical hallmark of solid tumors and involves enhanced cell survival, angiogenesis, glycolytic metabolism, and metastasis. Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) treatment has for centuries been used to improve or cure disorders involving hypoxia and ischemia, by enhancing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the plasma and thereby increasing O2 delivery to the tissue,” the study states.

Until recently, HBO studies have focused on whether enhanced oxygen acts as a promoter of cancer or not.

“As oxygen is believed to be required for all the major processes of wound healing, one feared that the effects of HBO would be applicable to cancer tissue as well and promote cancer growth. Furthermore, one also feared that exposing patients who had been treated for cancer, to HBO, would lead to recurrence,” the study states.

“Nevertheless, two systematic reviews on HBO and cancer have concluded that the use of HBO in patients with malignancies is considered safe. To supplement the previous reviews, we have summarized the work performed on HBO and cancer in the period 2004-2012. Based on the present as well as previous reviews, there is no evidence indicating that HBO neither acts as a stimulator of tumor growth nor as an enhancer of recurrence.

“On the other hand, there is evidence that implies that HBO might have tumor-inhibitory effects in certain cancer subtypes, and we thus strongly believe that we need to expand our knowledge on the effect and the mechanisms behind tumor oxygenation.

“HBO therapy is today accepted and routinely used for many disorders, related to both ischemia and/or hypoxia. HBO is considered safe and complications are rare using today’s standard treatment protocols.”