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Heating cancer cells — even by a few degrees — can help radiation and chemotherapy more effectively shrink tumors.
Hyperthermia therapy 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 hyperthermia therapy specialists offers this treatment, which research has linked with improved survival, as part of a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan.
How Hyperthermia Therapy Works
Hyperthermia therapy is a noninvasive procedure that does not require general anesthesia. It involves heating tumors to 104 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 44 degrees Celsius). Internal and external temperature probes allow doctors to continuously monitor the therapeutic temperature to ensure the treatment is delivered correctly.
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.
Hyperthermia therapy can also be an important treatment for tumors that occur in areas that were previously treated with radiation therapy.
Cancers Hyperthermia Therapy Can Treat
Because it is associated with improved survival rates and prevention of complications, hyperthermia therapy can be added to the treatment plans for many different cancers. The most common cancer sites that hyperthermia therapy is used for include:
- Brain and CNS cancers
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Head and Neck cancers
- Liver and bile duct cancers
- Lung cancer
- Pediatric cancers
- Prostate cancer
- Soft tissue sarcoma
In addition, using hyperthermia therapy to treat a cancer is associated with lowering a person's chances of developing a secondary cancer by as much as a third or more.
Types of Hyperthermia Therapy
At UMGCCC, some of our radiation oncologists have expertise in three different kinds of hyperthermia therapy:
- External hyperthermia therapy (ETT) – Used for tumors near the surface of the body, this therapy involves placing an applicator filled with water over the treatment area. Then, microwave energy is focused at the tumor site.
- Deep tissue hyperthermia therapy (DTT) – For tumors deep in the abdomen or pelvis, the hyperthermia applicator is placed so it surrounds the treatment region. The tumor is then targeted with radiofrequency energy produced by several sources.
- Interstitial hyperthermia therapy (ITT) – For patients who receive brachytherapy radiation treatments via catheter, the treatment area may first be primed with interstitial hyperthermia therapy. To directly heat the treatment area, doctors place thin antennas through the same catheters that will later deliver radiation therapy.
For both external and deep tissue hyperthermia therapy, patients undergo 60-minute treatment sessions, two 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.
Hyperthermia Therapy Combined with Proton Therapy
UMGCCC radiation oncologists also use deep tissue hyperthermia 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 hyperthermia 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
Hyperthermia therapy is just one of the many cancer treatments offered at UMGCCC that uses heat.
Other types of thermal cancer treatments include:
- Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), which uses heated chemotherapy along with surgery to treat cancers that have spread to the lining of the abdomen
- Radiofrequency thermal ablation, used to treat liver tumors
- MRI-guided focused ultrasound, which UMGCCC doctors are using in clinical trials to open the blood-brain barrier to more effectively deliver chemotherapy to brain tumors
- Laser interstitial thermal therapy, another treatment similar to hyperthermia therapy used to treat brain and other tumors of the central nervous system