Can hydrogen peroxide cure cancer?

By August 18, 2022 Health

We came across a video lasting two minutes on TikTok which claimed that hydrogen peroxide could cure cancer:

The video appears to show an elderly woman giving a lecture telling her listeners that hydrogen peroxide was effective for treating cancer but that ‘orthodox’ doctors refused to prescribe it because it was ‘too cheap’.

In addition, she makes the following key claims:

  • Hydrogen peroxide kills germs and viruses
  • Rubbing hydrogen peroxide on a patient’s skin helps it get absorbed into the bloodstream, giving the bloodstream extra oxygen to help kill germs, viruses and tumour cells.

Disinformation from Croatia to Malaysia

As we investigated the claims made in the video, we found that this video and the claims in it had already been debunked on multiple occasions, including by the London-based fact checker Full Fact, USA Today, and most recently, by AFP Fact Check.

Image: AFP Fact Check

According to the article from 17 August on AFP Fact Check, the video has been widely shared on TikTok, Facebook and Telegram with English, Croatian and Malay captions, and has been watched over 6.5 million times.

According to AFP, the video is a segment of a lecture given by Charlotte Gerson at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London in 2003. Charlotte’s father, Max Gerson, was responsible for developing the ‘Gerson Therapy’, a controversial treatment for cancer and other diseases which scientists have found has no evidence of effectiveness as a cure.

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical substance that is found in low concentrations in some household products and antiseptics. It is true that hydrogen peroxide can kill germs and viruses and destroy cells. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, indicates that ‘commercially available 3% hydrogen peroxide is a stable and effective disinfectant when used on inanimate surfaces’. The initial claims Gerson makes in the video are therefore true.

A Dangerous ‘Solution’

Gerson goes on to extrapolate from hydrogen peroxide’s cleaning potency and ability to kill cells to claim that it can be rubbed on the skin to treat cancer. AFP Fact Check and Full Fact quote multiple agencies, health professionals and scientists—such as the US National Cancer Institute, the head information nurse at Cancer Research UK and a clinician scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research—who unanimously agree that there is no evidence that it helps to treat cancer.

In fact, according to dermatologists, the use of hydrogen peroxide on the skin can cause skin irritation and blisters, and even severe burns and permanent scarring if the concentration of the solution is high enough. It can also inhibit wound healing and destroy healthy cells; dermatologists therefore do not recommend it even for wound care.

While Full Fact relates some small-scale studies that the application of a 33% hydrogen peroxide solution led to a reduction in the size of skin cancer lesions, they note that application of the solution was precisely controlled, and that the authors of the study said further research was needed.

USA Today also quotes dermatologists who inform that hydrogen peroxide cannot be absorbed into the body or the bloodstream when rubbed on the skin, though the skin might turn white—a sign that the solution was damaging the cells on the outermost layer of the skin by breaking down protein and fats.

As such, the main claims that Gerson makes, that cancer can be treated by rubbing hydrogen peroxide on a patient’s skin, are false.

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