What is hyperthermia therapy?
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.
Are there different types of hyperthermia therapy?
Hyperthermia therapy can take different forms, including:
- Local hyperthermia therapy.
- Regional hyperthermia therapy.
- Whole-body hyperthermia therapy.
What is local hyperthermia therapy?
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:
- Small tumors in or just beneath your skin.
- Tumors in small body cavities.
- Tumors that are too deep in your body for surgery.
Examples of local hyperthermia therapy include:
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for tumors in your liver, kidneys and lungs.
- Laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT) for deep brain tumors.
What is regional hyperthermia therapy?
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:
- Deep tissue therapy aims high-energy waves from outside your body at organs in a cavity. Some examples include your bladder or cervix.
- Regional perfusion fills an entire cavity or limb with heat. Your healthcare provider may remove your blood, heat it and then put it back in your body. Or they fill a body part with heated chemotherapy. Regional perfusion treats cancers such as melanomas (skin cancers) or sarcomas (cancer that starts in the bones or soft tissues).
- Hyperthermia intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) treats cancers in the peritoneal cavity. This is the part of the abdomen that contains your intestines, stomach and liver. During or after surgery, your provider heats the chemotherapy and pumps it into your abdomen. Another name for this treatment is continuous hyperthermic peritoneal perfusion (CHPP).
What is whole-body hyperthermia therapy?
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.
Who needs hyperthermia therapy?
You may benefit from hyperthermia therapy if you have:
- Deep tumors that surgery can’t treat.
- Health conditions that prevent you from having surgery.
- Small tumors near the surface of your skin.
- Tumors in a body cavity.
How common is hyperthermia therapy?
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.
What happens before hyperthermia therapy?
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:
- Ask if there’s any chance you could be pregnant.
- Give you instructions about eating or drinking before the procedure.
- Order blood tests to make sure you’re healthy enough to have treatment.
- Perform imaging exams such as an ultrasound, MRI or CT scan. These pinpoint the exact location that needs treatment. This helps reduce the risk of damage to healthy tissues surrounding the tumor.
- Tell you to stop taking certain medications before your treatment. These may include medications that thin your blood.
On the day of your hyperthermia therapy, plan for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
What happens during hyperthermia therapy?
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.
What happens during local hyperthermia therapy?
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.
What happens during regional hyperthermia therapy?
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.
What happens during whole-body hyperthermia therapy?
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.
What happens after hyperthermia therapy?
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 / Benefits
What are the risks of hyperthermia therapy?
Risks of hyperthermia therapy may include:
- Blood clots.
- Burns or blisters on your skin.
- Damage to muscles and nerves.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Pain at the site of treatment.
- Tissue swelling or damage.
Rarely, whole-body hyperthermia can lead to problems with your heart, blood vessels or other organs.
What are the benefits of hyperthermia therapy?
Benefits of hyperthermia therapy include:
- Improving other treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemo — making them more effective.
- Minimizing damage to nearby tissues while only treating the tumor itself.
- Possible treatment for people who aren’t healthy enough for surgery.
- The ability to treat some tumors that surgery can’t.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the long-term outlook after hyperthermia therapy?
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.
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