Hyperthermia Treatment for Cancer
Hyperthermia is a type of medical treatment wherein the body tissues are exposed to higher temperatures (up to 113°F), which can kill or damage cancer cells while sparing the normal, healthy tissues. It is also called thermotherapy, thermal therapy or thermal ablation.
Hyperthermia is also used to make cancer cells more sensitive to other treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Hyperthermia in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy is found to be effective for cancers of the head and neck region, prostate, breast, cervix and rectum along with melanoma and soft tissue sarcoma.
There are different types of hyperthermia, namely local hyperthermia, regional hyperthermia and whole-body hyperthermia. Local hyperthermia and regional hyperthermia help in destroying cancer cells in the specific organ, whereas whole-body hyperthermia is still being studied for its efficacy and safety against cancer.
How Does Hyperthermia Treatment Work?
Hyperthermia primarily works by destroying the cancer cells and making them sensitive to other cancer treatments. Following are the key mechanisms by which hyperthermia acts on cancer cells:
- Disrupting the mechanism of DNA repair in cancer cells
- Stimulating the immune system to attack the cancer cells
- Increasing blood flow to improve tissue oxygenation, which makes the cancer cells more susceptible to other treatments like radiotherapy or chemotherapy
- Causing vascular damage, which affects the sustainability of cancer cells
- Triggering the synthesis of certain chemicals such as heat-shock proteins, which again make cancer cells sensitive
Hyperthermia is induced through various means, such as radio waves, lasers, ultrasound, heating fluids namely blood and chemotherapy drugs, and lastly subjecting the entire body to heat via heated chambers, hot water baths and heated blankets.
This is a minimally invasive procedure and does not require general anaesthesia.
During the procedure, the doctor may numb the target area to insert small probes with tiny thermometers into the tumour. These thermometers are essential to keep a close eye on the temperature of the tumour and the surrounding tissues throughout the session. Imaging methods, like CT scans, are used to ensure that the probes are placed in the right place.
The treatment duration may vary from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
Advantages of Hyperthermia Treatment
- Hyperthermia, when coupled with radiation therapy, can cause damage to the acidic, poorly oxygenated parts of the tumour and stop the growth.
- It makes the overall treatment more effective and increases the chances of positive outcomes.
- Hyperthermia boosts the effect of certain anti-cancer drugs.
- Hyperthermia, when combined with radiation and chemotherapy, can shrink the tumours.
- Hyperthermia helps in reducing the damage to the surrounding healthy tissues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Common side effects associated with hyperthermia (local and regional) include pain at the site, blood clots, bleeding, swelling, blistering, burns and damage to the skin, nerves and muscles in the treated area and infection.
No, hyperthermia is not a cure for cancer. However, when used in combination with radiation therapy or chemotherapy, hyperthermia can improve the effectiveness of the overall treatment.
Your treating doctor will carefully go through your reports and study your condition thoroughly and will recommend hyperthermia only if that is the right treatment choice for you.
No, there is no evidence of heat causing cancer to grow or spread. On the other hand, many studies have shown that heat treatment or thermal treatment can increase the efficacy of cancer treatments by making cancer cells more sensitive to radiation and anti-cancer drugs.
Several studies have reported that local and regional hyperthermia help radiation therapy and chemotherapy work better by affecting the cancer cells’ ability to divide and making them sensitive to these treatments. It has also been found that hyperthermia can shrink the tumours and eventually increase the chances of successful cancer treatment.