Data from 125 studies describing the pretreatment oxygenation status as measured in the clinical setting using the computerized Eppendorf pO2 histography system have been compiled in this article. Tumor oxygenation is heterogeneous and severely compromised as compared to normal tissue. Hypoxia results from inadequate perfusion and diffusion within tumors and from a reduced O2 transport capacity in anemic patients. The development of tumor hypoxia is independent of a series of relevant tumor characteristics (e.g., clinical size, stage, histology, and grade) and various patient demographics. Overall median pO2 in cancers of the uterine cervix, head and neck, and breast is 10 mm Hg with the overall hypoxic fraction (pO2 <or= 2.5 mm Hg) being approx. 25%. Metastatic lesions do not substantially deviate from the oxygenation status of (their) primary tumors. Whereas normal tissue oxygenation is independent of the hemoglobin level over the range of 8-15 g/dL, hypoxia is more pronounced in anemic patients and above this range in some cancers. Identification of tumor hypoxia may allow an assessment of a tumor's potential to develop an aggressive phenotype or acquired treatment resistance, both of which lead to poor prognosis. Detection of hypoxia in the clinical setting may therefore be helpful in selecting high-risk patients for individual and/or more intensive treatment schedules.