Thermal therapy, or hyperthermia, has been used for medical treatments for centuries. Modern research has demonstrated that high temperatures can damage and kill cancer cells, helping to shrink tumors with minimal injury to healthy cells. Heat exposure can also make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation and chemotherapy, potentially increasing the effectiveness of these treatments.
In hyperthermia treatments, doctors closely monitor a patient's body temperature to be sure that the desired temperature is reached, but not exceeded. Hyperthermia is generally used in combination with other cancer therapies, such as radiation and chemotherapy.
Currently, approved uses of hyperthermia for cancer treatment include local and regional hyperthermia. For local hyperthermia, high heat is applied to a small area, such as a tumor near or on the skin, using various techniques that deliver energy to heat the tumor. Heat can be applied externally to treat tumors that are just below the skin, or can be applied internally to treat tumors deep within the body or near body cavities. Regional hyperthermia, which involves lower temperatures and is often combined with anti-cancer drugs, uses various methods to heat large areas of tissue, such as a body cavity, organ or limb.
Whole body hyperthermia is being studied as a way to treat metastatic cancer that has spread throughout the body. One type of whole body hyperthermia involves external heat, delivered through radiant heat devices that utilize infrared-A radiation in a non-invasive manner. However, the effectiveness of radiant heat is compromised because it's difficult for external heat to reach the organs, which are the most common location of metastases. External heating can also cause burns and pain.
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A potential alternative to external heating is the use of perfusion circuits, which heat a patient's blood. This procedure is invasive, but provides steady internal heating with no severe skin burns. These perfusion circuits also heat the body more quickly, which is associated with more effectively killing cancer cells.
Doctors at the University of Kentucky are currently conducting a study to investigate perfusion whole body hyperthermia for treatment of late stage lung cancer. If you or a loved one would like to learn more about this clinical trial, please contact the Division of UK Cardiothoracic Surgery at (859) 323-6494 for a brief screening. You can also find information at UKClinicalResearch.com.