The most common myth associated with cancer is the claim that cancer cannot survive in a high oxygen atmosphere. This myth is commonly repeated by sales site selling oxygen products and by writers who have not bothered to do the research before repeating this claim.
The origin of the claim stem from a statement made by 1931 Nobel Peace Prize winner Otto Warburg. What Otto Warburg stated is that there was a respiratory defect in cancer cells causing them to ferment regardless of how much oxygen was present. See:
Warburg O. On the origin of cancer cells. Science 1956; 123: 309–14.
Somehow this statement got twisted in to the claim that Warburg stated the cause of cancer was a lack of oxygen.
The fact is that all cells, healthy and cancerous rely on both anaerobic and aerobic metabolism for energy production. And just like healthy cells, cancer cells will die if deprived of oxygen. This is actually the basis for the formation of blood vessels to a tumor through growth factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor. Once the tumor reaches a certain size, it can no longer be maintained though oxygen diffusion and the tumor starts to die. In response the tumor releases vascular growth factors that stimulate blood vessel formation to the tumor. This creates a more effective glucose and oxygen source for the tumor to help it survive and proliferate.
Bottom line is that cancer cells are highly dependent on oxygen for survival. This is why hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) does not cure cancer despite supersaturating the tissues with pure oxygen.
This concept confuses some people because some oxygen therapies such as ozone therapy will readily destroy cancer cells. Ozone though is not the same as the oxygen we routinely breathe and has numerous properties and benefits that plain oxygen does not provide. See my article The Chemistry of Ozone Therapy on Cancer:
Unfortunately too many people do their medical research by reading hyped up sales sites and simply repeat the same misinformation rather than doing real research to verify their claims. Hopefully this blog article will be a good start to ending the perpetuation of the oxygen kills cancer myth since misinformation can be just as deadly as the cancer itself.
- It is claimed that Warburg won the Nobel Peace Prize for discovering cancer was caused from a lack of oxygen. Warburg never made this claim though and this is not what he received the Nobel Peace Prize for. Warburg won the Nobel Peace Prize for discovering an enzyme he called “iron oxidase”1.
- Warburg’s hypothesis about there being a respiratory defect in cancer cells has since been disproven2,3.
- Otto Warburg’s contributions to current concepts of cancer metabolism. Nature Reviews Cancer 11, 618 (2011)
- Aerobic glycolysis: meeting the metabolic requirements of cell proliferation. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2011 Nov 10;27:441-64