Hydrogen peroxide does not cure cancer
CLAIM: Hydrogen peroxide, a common disinfectant, can be absorbed through the skin to kill tumor tissue or cure cancer.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Applying hydrogen peroxide to your skin won’t cure cancer, and trying to ingest it in other ways would be dangerous and ineffective, an oncologist told The Associated Press. The National Institutes of Health has found no evidence that the compound can treat cancer if rubbed on the skin.
THE FACTS: A video of a woman falsely claiming that hydrogen peroxide is a cheap cancer cure has long been popular on TikTok, and is now making the rounds again on social media, reappearing on Instagram in recent days.
In the video, the woman stands before a large notepad and explains the chemical structure of hydrogen peroxide. She then claims that in addition to germs and viruses, the compound “kills tumor tissue, cancer.” She describes giving cancer patients a bottle of it to rub it on their bodies at least once a day.
The woman in the video is the late Charlotte Gerson, who was the daughter of Max Gerson, a physician best known for promoting an unproven cancer treatment regimen. And while hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant and bleaching agent, present in products from mouthwash to hair dye, there’s no evidence to suggest it could save someone from cancer.
Dr. John Glaspy, an oncologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, told the AP that hydrogen peroxide can’t be absorbed via the skin as Gerson suggests. And if someone were to drink or inject enough hydrogen peroxide to maintain a high concentration in their body, it would likely just kill them.
The compound also isn’t much better at destroying cancer cells than normal, healthy cells, Glaspy said. “The idea that hydrogen peroxide is a cancer drug is a silly one. It’s an extremely poor cancer drug that wouldn’t make it past the first stages of cancer drug development,” he said.
The National Cancer Institute, a government research office under the National Institutes of Health, told the AP that rubbing hydrogen peroxide on the skin is “an old claim,” and said it doesn’t have “any information supporting” it. An NCI spokesperson directed the AP to the agency’s guide for finding more reliable cancer resources.
Hydrogen peroxide may still be of interest to cancer researchers, though not as a cure in itself. Using an enzyme called superoxide dismutase, human cells generate some hydrogen peroxide on their own in order to kill bacteria, Glaspy said. Drugs that mimic this enzyme are being studied as cancer treatments because they could cause cells to make peroxide locally near a tumor, weakening the tumor cells to radiation.
“It’s not like this doesn’t have a use,” he said. “It’s just not as simple as setting up a roadside stand and selling bottles of hydrogen peroxide.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.