Patients with certain hard to treat cancers can face uncertain futures. A new, experimental treatment is providing hope with heat.
Janie Allison is determined not to let history repeat itself. Her father died of lung cancer two years ago and now she’s battling the same disease.
“He did the old-fashioned chemo/radiation," she says. "And I didn’t want to do that. And I wanted something, something different and this added me a little extra edge.”
That edge was in the form of an experimental treatment called thermal therapy. In six separate treatments, doctors heated Janie’s body temperature to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dr. Joan Bull says, "This level of heat sends the immune cells to fight the cancer much better at this temperature than it does a normal temperature.”
When patients are in this fever-like state, chemotherapy drugs are more effective.
Dr. Bull says, "Heat makes the tumor blood vessels, the little blood vessels, very leaky, so we can get much more chemotherapy into the tumor than we could at normal temperatures.”
Patients are sedated and stay in a heated, tent-like contraption for six hours while nurses closely monitor their vital signs.
Janie’s tumor has already shrunk and her doctors are hopeful the cancer is disappearing from her lymph nodes.
“I’m very optimistic," she said. "At 48, I feel like I can fight. But I just keep plugging away every day.”
Doctors at UT Health Science Center in Houston are looking for patients to enroll in this thermal therapy study. To qualify, you must have inoperable stomach, gall bladder, lung, or head or neck cancer. For more information, call 713-500-6820.
Fast Facts:About 1,399,790 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.
Traditional treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Doctors at UT-Houston/Memorial Hermann are using thermal therapy to induce a “fever-like” state in cancer patients.
Thermal therapy appears to enhance the effects of chemotherapy and may prolong survival and/or improve quality of life for some cancer patients.
Cancer in the U.S.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. (following heart disease). This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 1,399,790 cases will be diagnosed. In men, the most common types are prostate cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma. Among women, the most common types are breast cancer, lung cancer, colon/rectal cancer, uterine cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
There are several important methods of treatment for cancer. Doctors may use one or more treatments to increase the chance of success and/or prolong survival.
The mainstay of treatment for many cancers is surgery. During surgery, doctors remove as much of the tumor as possible as well as a small margin of healthy tissue to ensure complete removal of the cancer. Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. There are many different kinds of chemotherapy drugs. They are given orally, by injection or intravenously. Radiation therapy is the use of high doses of energy to destroy cancer cells. It may be given before surgery to shrink the size of a tumor or after surgery.
Using Heat to Treat Cancer
When the body experiences an infection, it often produces a fever to help fight invading germs. Since the time of early medicine, physicians have tried to use heat in different ways to help people fight illness. Now, doctors think it may help some patients fight tumors. The treatment is called thermal therapy (also called thermotherapy, hyperthermia, fever therapy or heat therapy). It’s usually given in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Thermal therapy may be used in a confined area of the body, a certain region of the body or to the whole body. At UT-Houston/Memorial Hermann, doctors are applying heat to the whole body. To produce the heat, the patient is placed on a table under a panel of radiant heat lamps. The lamps are turned on until the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees F (about the temperature range of a high fever). Then, blankets are wrapped around the patient to maintain the high heat for about six hours. The temperature can be adjusted as necessary by turning on more lights or partially removing the blankets. During the treatment, patients are given a light sedative to ease discomfort and symptoms associated with a constant high “fever.” Patients are continually monitored and given fluids to maintain hydration.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how thermal therapy helps. Cancer cells appear to be more sensitive to heat than normal cells. The treatment may make cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiation or chemotherapy drugs. In addition, heat increases blood flow to the tumors and may allow more drugs to get into the cancer cells.
Joan Bull, M.D., Oncologist/Researcher, is currently involved in three phase II studies of thermal therapy using different drug regimens. It is being tested on patients with several different kinds of cancer. Generally patients receive six treatments about three to four weeks apart.
Thermal therapy is not a cure for cancer. However, in phase 1 trials, the treatment appeared to produce at least a partial response in all patients. Doctors say the therapy may help to improve quality of life or prolong survival for some cancer patients who have failed other treatments or otherwise have a poor prognosis.
Researchers are still looking for participants for the study. To qualify, patients must have inoperable stomach, gall bladder, lung, or head or neck cancer. For more information, call 713-500-6820.
Web ResourcesSociety for Thermal Medicine Web site
For information on thermal therapy:
For general information on cancer treatment:American Cancer Society Web site
National Cancer Institute Web site