Hyperthermia therapy is the use of heat to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can also make other cancer treatments, like radiation therapy and chemotherapy, more effective. Hyperthermia therapy may be an option for people who aren’t healthy enough to have surgery, or for tumors that are too hard to reach for surgery.
Hyperthermia therapy is a new type of cancer treatment. It uses heat to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Hyperthermia therapy can also make other cancer treatments more effective. These include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Other names for this heat treatment include thermal therapy and thermotherapy. It’s still under investigation and in clinical trials, so it’s not widely available.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Hyperthermia therapy can take different forms, including:
During local hyperthermia therapy, heat targets a small area such as a tumor. The heat comes from energy such as radio waves, electromagnetic waves or ultrasound waves. Local hyperthermia therapy is most effective for:
Examples of local hyperthermia therapy include:
Regional hyperthermia therapy targets larger areas of your body. Providers use it to treat tumors that are in body cavities, organs or limbs. It’s typically combined with chemotherapy.
This treatment can take several forms:
If cancer metastasizes (spreads) through your entire body, you may need whole-body hyperthermia. There are different ways to heat your entire body. Your provider may use a heated blanket, incubator or a bath of warm water. Some people receive fever-range, whole-body hyperthermia. This is a short, controlled fever that can trigger your immune system to fight cancer cells.
You may benefit from hyperthermia therapy if you have:
Some forms of hyperthermia therapy are more common than others. Local therapies (such as RFA) and regional therapies (such as HIPEC) are more common than whole-body hyperthermia. Hyperthermia therapy isn’t widely available in the U.S. Studies and clinical trials are ongoing for these treatments.
A team of healthcare providers plans your hyperthermia therapy. They determine what kind of treatments you receive and in what order. For example, some people have hyperthermia therapy followed immediately by radiation therapy. Others have the treatment, such as HIPEC, at the same time as surgery.
They also decide what temperature to use during your treatment. Depending on the therapy, the temperature may be up to 113°F.
Sometimes you need a procedure before regional hyperthermia therapy to implant a catheter and a port. The catheter is a thin, flexible tube that goes directly into a body cavity like your abdomen. It attaches to a port, which is a tiny tube under your skin. Your healthcare provider can deliver heated chemo right into the port. Then, you only need one needle stick.
Before hyperthermia therapy, your healthcare provider may also:
On the day of your hyperthermia therapy, plan for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
The way your healthcare provider delivers the therapy depends on the type you need. Treatment times can range anywhere from 10 minutes to many hours. All types of hyperthermia therapy use specialized thermometers to monitor your body temperature.
For external therapy, your healthcare provider may use a machine to aim high-energy waves toward the tumor. This general procedure is noninvasive, so it doesn’t require any incisions (cuts) in your skin. You receive a local anesthetic, so you don’t feel any pain from the probe.
But during procedures such as RFA or LITT, your healthcare provider heats the tumor directly. They insert a needle-like probe into your skin and direct it to the tumor. Once it reaches the tumor, the tip of the probe releases an electric current and heats the tumor. You may receive general anesthesia, so you’re asleep during the procedure.
Regional therapy fills body cavities or limbs with very strong chemo. Most people receive the treatment during surgery and need general anesthesia.
During HIPEC, your healthcare provider fills your abdomen with heated chemo after they remove tumors. The chemo destroys the remaining cancer cells.
During limb perfusion, you receive heated chemotherapy in your limbs through a catheter. This procedure requires surgery because your healthcare provider must isolate the blood supply in your limbs from the rest of your body.
Your healthcare provider gradually raises your body temperature to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They keep it at that temperature for at least six hours. Then, your provider slowly brings your body temperature back down to normal. They may follow the heat treatment with chemotherapy through a catheter. You’re under light sedation so you’re relaxed and sleepy, but can still respond to stimuli.
Hyperthermia therapy may be an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home the same day. But if you have hyperthermia therapy with surgery, you stay in the hospital overnight or for several days. This is standard for recovering from surgery. Depending on the type of therapy you received, you may be able to resume your usual activities in a few days. But recovery from surgery can take several weeks.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe pain medication as you recover. You also have periodic blood tests or imaging exams. These show if tumors are smaller or if cancer cells still remain in your body.
Risks of hyperthermia therapy may include:
Rarely, whole-body hyperthermia can lead to problems with your heart, blood vessels or other organs.
Benefits of hyperthermia therapy include:
Hyperthermia therapies are fairly new. Many of these treatments are still under investigation in clinical trials. Studies are ongoing to determine if hyperthermia improves long-term outcomes for people with cancer.
Some studies show that heat therapy, when combined with other treatments like chemo, reduces the size of tumors. But it’s not clear yet if hyperthermia therapy increases survival rates in people who receive the treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hyperthermia therapy is the use of heat to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can also make other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, more effective. Hyperthermia therapy is fairly new, so it isn’t a standard cancer treatment throughout the U.S. If you have cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about hyperthermia therapy to find out if it could be a treatment option for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/15/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.