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Putting the Heat on Tumors: June 4, 2013

Researchers have known it for years. Cancerous tumors don’t like extreme temperatures. Now they’re turning the premise into practice. By putting the heat on tumors.

“Heat can kill cancer cells. When it’s given in combination with radiation and even chemotherapy it’s more effective,” says Dr. Alan Brown, radiation oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Using a technique called hyperthermia, doctors are heating superficial tumors prior to delivering radiation. This system is FDA approved to treat recurrent cancers, including breast and basil or squamous cell skin cancers.

“Because of the previous radiation, we’re somewhat limited of the amount of radiation we can give again. So this would be a particular use in those patients,” says Dr. Brown.

The technology allows doctors to control and deliver heat directly to the affected area. A liquid-filled bladder is placed against the skin.

How does it feel for the patient?
“So it’s almost the temperature of a hot tub. We’ve tried to get the temperature to 108 degrees and we want it in contact with the tumor from anywhere to 30 minutes to an hour,” says Dr. Brown.

Hyperthermia makes the body more sensitive to radiation, so it can be administered at lower doses and still be effective. Within an hour after getting the heat application, the patient undergoes radiation.

“What it does is make the radiation more effective by increasing the blood flow to the tumor, you have more oxygen there. And the oxygen interacts with the radiation and creates free radicals and free radicals actually attach to the DNA cancer cells and break the DNA in half. By doing that cancer cells can’t divide, they can’t grow and they die,” says Dr. Brown.

Hyperthermia therapy is a hot topic in cancer treatment. While not curative, it is giving patients with limited options, a new way to keep their disease in check.