Hyperthermia – An Overview

The use of high temperature heat in a therapeutic setting or simply “hyper-thermia” is an emerging treatment tool in the field of cancer (i.e. a field known as thermal medicine). It has been shown that cancer cells (i.e. both leukemia & solid tumors) are more sensitive to hyperthermia than normal tissue cells. “Heat and cancer do not get along”. This has given researchers greater hope of using medically supervised high temperature heating as a treatment tool against cancer.

Several research centers & hospitals throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States are actively studying the application of hyperthermia on weakening and even killing cancer cells within the body. In addition, this same research is also showing how hyperthermia can be combined together with radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy medicines so that their positive effects can be enhanced in the killing of cancer cells.

In basic terms you are “boosting” the benefits of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy or immune-based treatments with heat (i.e. thermo-immunotherapy). For patients whose cancers have become more resistant to chemotherapy including for re-irradiated areas, hyperthermia is also showing promise in making those situations work better as well.

There is also a growing interest in the use of some hyperthermia applications (i.e. whole body) in the treatment of chronic and complex diseases (i.e. Lymes Disease)

We have clinically seen patients given the same chemotherapy agents they are resistant too (and at lower doses on top) work once again when heat into the mix! Several research papers have also supported this trend in oncology.


Mechanisms on how hyperthermia helps in the battle of cancer:

  • increases blood flow (oxygen) to the more low oxygen tumours (i.e. hypoxic tumours) allowing for radiation to be more effective and the chemotherapy medicines greater ease to penetrate through the cancer

  • increases the immune system cells in cancer cell killing (i.e. macrophage, lymphocyte, cytotoxic T cells, dendritic cells)

  • allows the immune system to more easily “see” tumor cells (increased antigen recognition) and respond

  • increases the more beneficial heat-shock proteins

  • makes tumour cell walls more “leaky” or weaker along with causing cellular damage within the cancer cell or tumour

  • helps to reverse chemotherapy and radiation resistance using all the above

There are 4 general ways on how hyperthermia is used in the field of cancer:

  • Ablation – where tumors are literally “burned” or “fried” using specific, medically guided techniques

  • Loco-Regional (LRHT) – where specific tumor site(s) or parts of the body, either closer to the skin or deeper within the body or organs (i.e. liver, pancreas), are heated using a specialized medical device reaching temperatures above 39 C to 44 C (102 to 111 F) which can either directly cause damage to cancer or make treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation work better.

  • Perfusion – where the blood is specifically heated and circulated either in a specific region of the body (i.e. limb) or throughout the body using specialized pumps. This is also being used to heat up chemotherapy for more regionally- localized diseases (i.e. in the peritoneum)

  • Whole Body (WBH) – where the entire body is heated usually using a specialized tent to a point that makes tumor cells vulnerable (>39 C or 102 F) and the body is stimulated to fight disease (i.e. like in a fever).