What is Hyperthermia?
In medicine, hyperthermia refers to an increase in temperature above the normal body temperature range. In oncology, the hyperthermia is applied to tumours in order to treat the disease. Moderate hyperthermia refers to an increase in temperature to around 42-42 degrees Celsius. When the temperature increases more than this, then the temperature begins to cause tissue damage.
Why is Hyperthermia used in Oncology?
Although hyperthermia can be applied by itself, it is most commonly used as a complimentary treatment or radiation therapy and chemotherapy. It is combined with the prescribed oncology treatments in order to boost the tumour killing effects. The synergistic relationship between hyperthermia and oncology treatments is due to the increased blood flow, increased oxygen concentration, increased drug delivery and the inflammatory response seen in heated tumours. The tumour’s ability to repair itself from the damage done by the prescribed treatments is also slowed down when it is heated.
When is Hyperthermia used?
Hyperthermia is most well-known for its synergy with radiation therapy and there has been a large amount of research on this combination. In instances where tumours are known to be resistant to radiation, heating up the tumour just before, or just after, administering the radiation can cause the tumour to become more sensitive the effects of the radiation. Combining hyperthermia with chemotherapy is also practiced for certain cancers and certain chemotherapy combinations. There are many potential benefits and uses for hyperthermia in oncology and there are several trials underway to investigate the roles of different hyperthermia applications. It is however important to note that hyperthermia is not indicated in all tumours. Some tumours are known to respond well to radiation or chemotherapy and the addition of another treatment is therefore unnecessary.
Where is Hyperthermia used?
The concept of using hyperthermia in oncology is not new, however the methods of application have historically been problematic. Advances in technology over the last decade have led to a rapid increase in the world wide use of hyperthermia, especially in Europe and Asia where it the use of hyperthermia is becoming more common. Some academic institutes are running clinical trials on hyperthermia in South Africa. Unfortunately, at the date of writing, there are no private facilities in South Africa offering hyperthermia for oncology patients.
How is Hyperthermia applied?
There are a variety of medical devices used to heat up tumours. They range in complexity, temperature and their ability to select the tumour and protect the healthy tissues. The techniques may cause local, regional or whole body heating, depending on the doctor’s preference and the patient needs. There are some alternative practitioners claiming to administer hyperthermia to cancer patients using saunas, steaming pods, heat blankets or other non-regulated heating methods. It is important to know that this is not medical hyperthermia and it is not given in combination with radiation or chemotherapy. These alternative forms of hyperthermia cause the whole body to heat up without any targeted benefits to the cancer itself. It is extremely dangerous to attempt to raise the whole body temperature to the temperature required for the effects of hyperthermia to be seen. It is also extremely dangerous to use hyperthermia as a replacement for chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Hyperthermia in oncology is never a replacement for conventional treatment.
Hyperthermia combined with radiation therapy is well known for its use in breast cancer patients. The most promising use is to re-sensitise tumours that have already been treated with radiation and have subsequently recurred. However it is important to remember that hyperthermia is not suitable for everyone and each person is unique. Despite the widespread use of hyperthermia for breast cancer treatment internationally, it is still a very new treatment in South Africa with limited clinics applying the technique. For more information on hyperthermia and you’re your treatments, please ask your treating oncologist.