Turing up the Heat on Cancer: September 24, 2013

In cases where the cancer treatment trail has gone cold, doctors may turn up the heat on tumors.

“Ideally for this treatment to be successful, we want the temperature to be maintained at about 108 degrees. Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and it’s usually done in conjunction with radiation,” says Dr. Alan Brown, radiation oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

It’s called hyperthermia, which means a body temperature that is higher than normal. It also refers to heat treatment. Very high temperatures can kill cancer outright, but also damages normal tissue. So doctors are slightly heating parts of the body to help additional cancer treatments work better.

“The benefit of hyperthermia is hyperthermia makes radiation more effective. So we don’t have to use higher doses we would otherwise have to use to result in the same tumor control,” says Dr. Brown.

The heat is delivered directly to the affected area by placing a liquid-filled bladder against the skin.

Hyperthermia isn’t approved as a curative treatment, but it’s meant to be used on cases where cancer has returned and it wouldn’t be considered safe to go back and use high doses of radiation again.

“So we’re still able to treat the area, but with a lower dose of radiation and we would still have the same effect as we would high dose of radiation,” says Dr. Brown.

Many breast and skin cancers are candidates for this technique because tumors are near the surface, making it easy to turn up the heat.