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Taking a Second Shot at Cancer: August 1, 2014

It is one of the harshest realities of cancer. A patient undergoes treatment and then the disease comes back. And options are dwindling. When it comes to radiation there may be a safe way to take a second shot.

“Hyperthermia makes radiation more effective so we don’t have to use higher doses we would otherwise have to use to result in the same kill, or tumor control,” says Dr. Alan Brown, who is a radiation oncologist on medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Hyperthermia, or thermotherapy, uses heat to damage and kill cancer cells. The FDA has approved its use for palliative care and recurrences.

“So for instance a patient that has a breast cancer that have had previous mastectomy and radiation/chemotherapy and the cancer comes back, and because of the previous radiation we’re somewhat limited of the amount of radiation we can give again. So this would be a particular use in those patients because when the heat is applied to the chest wall what it does is make the radiation more effective,” says Dr. Brown.

Researchers have long known that heat kills cancer, the key is to effectively deliver and control the heat. New technologies are able to do both. When hyperthermia and radiation therapy are combined, they are usually given within an hour of each other.

“Ideally for this treatment to be successful we want the temperature to be maintained at about 108 degrees. Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and it’s usually done in conjunction with radiation so even though heat can kill cancer cells, when it’s given in combination with radiation and even chemotherapy, it’s more effective,” says Dr. Brown.

Heat is delivered by placing a liquid-filled bladder against the skin, although it is not considered a curative treatment, hyperthermia is successfully turning up the heat on tumors.