Background and purpose Addition of carbogen and nicotinamide (hypoxia-modifying agents) to radiotherapy improves the survival of patients with high risk bladder cancer. The study investigated whether histopathological tumour features and putative hypoxia markers predicted benefit from hypoxia modification. Materials and methods Samples were available from 231 patients with high grade and invasive bladder carcinoma from the BCON phase III trial of radiotherapy (RT) alone or with carbogen and nicotinamide (RT + CON). Histopathological tumour features examined were: necrosis, growth pattern, growing margin, and tumour/stroma ratio. Hypoxia markers carbonic anhydrase-IX and glucose transporter-1 were examined using tissue microarrays. Results Necrosis was the only independent prognostic indicator (P = 0.04). Necrosis also predicted benefit from hypoxia modification. Five-year overall survival was 48% (RT) versus 39% (RT + CON) (P = 0.32) in patients without necrosis and 34% (RT) versus 56% (RT + CON) (P = 0.004) in patients with necrosis. There was a significant treatment by necrosis strata interaction (P = 0.001 adjusted). Necrosis was an independent predictor of benefit from RT + CON versus RT (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.43, 95% CI 0.25-0.73, P = 0.002). This trend was not observed when there was no necrosis (HR: 1.64, 95% CI 0.95-2.85, P = 0.08). Conclusions Necrosis predicts benefit from hypoxia modification in patients with high risk bladder cancer and should be used to select patients; it is simple to identify and easy to incorporate into routine histopathological examination. © 2013 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.