Heat Being Used to Fight Cancer

Heat Being Used to Fight Cancer

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Ed Yeates Reporting Things are heating up for cancer in a bad way -- bad, that is, for the tumor cells. Hyperthermia treatment is making a comeback, being used for the first time in more than a decade here in Utah.

Jean Nybo may not be getting a suntan lying on this bed, but the hyperthermia box above her is sizzling her cancer cells.

Jean Nybo, Patient: "I'm feeling warm, very warm, but it's not uncomfortable."

In this case, microwave energy is focused on an area of her skin where breast cancer cells have made a reappearance. You see, unlike a normal cell, the core of a cancer cell is very sensitive to heat.

Robert Harris, M.D., Radiology Oncologist, GammaWest: "Cancer cells have gone through changes to make them cancerous. They've lost some of their previous abilities and they're more sensitive in a lot of ways."

Their mechanism to repair tissue doesn't work that well anymore, and as cells they tend to cycle faster than normal. So when you hit them with heat at about 107 degrees, they become oxygenated again, ready for the kill by follow-up radiation.

Dr. Harris: "The studies that were done show if you deliver radiation within four hours after delivering the hyperthermia, you have a prolonging of their oxygenation."

While doctors won't know for another four weeks how well this partnership works, Jean believes the tumors on her skin are disappearing.

Jean Nybo: "Yes I have, I've noticed it in my arm right along the elbow. There was quite a bit of cancer there and it's starting to go away."

Again, Jean's treatment involves mostly heat to the surface of her skin -surface tumors- but hyperthermia will go much deeper.

Theron Schaefermeyer, BSD Medical Incorporated: "Any tumorous type cancer that we can get needles into, that we can get an external beam into to raise the temperature, hyperthermia is effective."

In fact, right after Jean finished her hyperthermia and headed down the hall for radiation treatment, another patient was coming in to have hyperthermia needles inserted directly into his prostate, preparing the kill for prostate cancer.

Clinical trials using hyperthermia on other types of cancers are already underway in Europe.

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