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Heating cancer cells — even by a few degrees — can help radiation and chemotherapy more effectively shrink tumors. Thermal therapy, also known as hyperthermia, uses heat in a targeted way to raise the temperature of the tumor and, in turn, the effectiveness of these cancer treatments.
At the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC), our radiation oncology team offers this treatment, which research has linked with improved survival, as part of a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan.
How Thermal Therapy Works
Thermal therapy involves heating tumors to 104 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 45 degrees Celsius). Internal and external probes allow doctors to continuously monitor the temperature of the therapy.
The heat opens up the blood vessels in the tumor, which fills them with more oxygen. This extra oxygen makes tumor cells more sensitive to other forms of standard therapy, including radiation and chemotherapy.
In addition, the heat has been shown to boost some patients' immune systems, which can help them better fight cancer.
Thermal therapy can also be an important treatment for tumors that occur in areas that were previously treated with radiation therapy.
This noninvasive procedure does not require general anesthesia. An applicator filled with water is placed over the treatment area. Then, radiofrequency energy is focused at the tumor site.
Patients undergo 60-minute treatment sessions, two to three times a week, for about four to five weeks. Side effects may include blisters or slight pain at the treatment site, but these are minimal.
Deep Tissue Thermal Therapy
For many years, UMGCCC has used external thermal therapy to treat cancers near the surface of the body, such as a breast cancer in patients with chest wall recurrence.
Now, UMGCCC radiation oncologists also can use deep tissue thermal therapy together with proton therapy. This treatment can be especially important for abdominal and pelvic cancers, such as those of the bladder, rectum, cervix, ovaries and pancreas as well as sarcoma (connective tissue cancers).
Having both proton therapy and deep tissue thermal therapy under one roof at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC) is especially convenient because these treatments are usually given within an hour of each other.
Other Thermal Cancer Treatments at UMGCCC
Thermal therapy – whether external or deep tissue – is just one of the cancer treatments offered at UMGCCC that uses heat.
Other types of thermal treatments include hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, which uses heated chemotherapy along with surgery to treat cancers that have spread to the lining of the abdomen, and radiofrequency thermal ablation, which is used to treat liver tumors.
At UMGCCC, Zeljko Vujaskovic, MD, PhD, professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, oversees thermal therapy. A leader in the field of hyperthermia cancer treatment, Dr. Vujaskovic has served as president of the Society for Thermal Medicine.
Make an Appointment
If you have questions about thermal therapy or wish to schedule a consultation to find out if it may be right for you, please call 410-328-6080.