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An Introduction to Hyperthermia Cancer Therapy

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Located in Tijuana, Mexico, Oasis of Hope Hospital provides patients with a range of medical services and resources, including multiple alternative cancer treatments. A few of the alternative treatments offered at Oasis of Hope include intravenous vitamin C, apricot seed extract therapy, and hyperthermia.

Most people are familiar with the concept of hypothermia, a critical medical condition defined by the body losing heat at a faster rate than it can be generated. The result is a potentially fatally low core body temperature. Hyperthermia can be viewed as the opposite of hypothermia, a condition involving abnormally high body temperatures. Hyperthermia can be a serious medical condition, but may also play a role in a holistic treatment plan for cancer.

Cancer cells are susceptible to many environmental changes, including elevated temperatures. At a high enough temperature, heat can destroy cancer cell membranes, which typically results in cell death. By changing the microenvironment of a malignant tumor via heat, doctors not only kill many cells, but leave the tumor more vulnerable to other treatment strategies, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Of course, the same environmental changes that impact cancer cells can also be harmful to surrounding tissue. Cell membranes are proteins, and once those proteins melt away there is nothing regulating what goes in or out of a cell. Unchecked hyperthermia leads to organ failure and, ultimately, death. With this in mind, medical professionals implementing hyperthermia cancer therapy must be highly cognizant of a patient’s circulation, sweat production, and levels of norepinephrine, epinephrine, and thyroxine.

A physician’s task is made slightly easier by the fact that cancer cells are more vulnerable to heat than healthy cells. This means that a medical team can safely elevate a patient’s body temperature to a point that is destructive to cancer cells but leaves the rest of the body relatively unharmed. Hyperthermia, unfortunately, is not a simple process: cancerous and healthy cells have the same proteins in their membranes. It is, rather, a cancer cell’s inability to cool itself that leaves it more vulnerable to damage from heat.

It should come as no surprise that cancer drastically alters body tissue. When it comes to tumors, the irregular, disorganized vasculature of cancerous growths yields a low-oxygen, low-pH environment. This malformed tissue is highly resistant to oxidative therapies, but considerable scientific research has shown that elevating body temperature by a few degrees alters the tumor’s environment so that the cancer is more receptive to oxidative therapies, which include chemo and radiation therapy.

If the cancer has metastasized to various organs, it’s very difficult to increase the temperature of the tumors using whole-body hyperthermia. However, oncologists are more than capable of raising the temperature of one tumor or multiple regional tumors through a process alternatively known as hyperthermic peritoneal perfusion and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). This targeted approach allows doctors to raise a tumor’s temperature to nearly 111 degrees Fahrenheit. When HIPEC is performed correctly, there is little to no chance of severe side effects for the patient.

The most common HIPEC procedure today is radiofrequency ablation (RFA). The process is ideal for tumors that cannot be removed via surgery due to patient health or the location of the cancer. RFA is also more affordable compared to emerging cancer drugs. An outpatient procedure, RFA can serve as an effective complement not only to chemo and radiation therapy, but surgery and several alternative strategies.