Hyperthermia Therapy for Cancer
Questions from the Clinic:
What is hyperthermia? Are there different kinds of hyperthermia therapies? In which cancers are hyperthermia therapies most effective? Is it safe?
Hyperthermia or the heating of body tissue to temperatures of 40 to 42°C (104 to 107.6 °F) is among the oldest forms of cancer treatment known to humanity. According to surviving records, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used vapors from heated liquids to treat breast cancer; similar heat-based treatment methods also appear to have been known in ancient India.(1) In modern medicine, Swedish gynecologist Frans Westermark pioneered the use of hyperthermic therapy in cancer patients and published a case report in 1898. In his report, Westermark noted that he was able to achieve an “excellent response” in locally advanced cervical carcinomas by running hot water through an intracavitary spiral tube.(2,3) The next year, Gottschalk confirmed Westermark’s findings in patients with cervical cancer and offered suggestions on how to improve outcomes further.(4) Despite these compelling data, scientific interest in hyperthermia as a cancer treatment waned into the 20th century. The discovery and widespread application of penicillin in the 1930s substantially reduced the number of patients experiencing high fever secondary to bacterial infections – a patient population in which clinicians sometimes observed spontaneous tumor regression.(1)
After several decades of relative obscurity, hyperthermia therapy in cancer is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.(5) Scientific insights clarifying the biological mechanisms underlying hyperthermia and better delivery technologies have both made heat therapy an increasingly viable complement to standard cancer treatment protocols.