Also known as: Thermal Therapy, Thermotherapy
Other separately listed treatments, such as HIFU employ the same principles to weaken cancer cells.
Local hyperthermia is used to treat very small areas, such as a tumour. Heat can be applied from the outside using high-frequency waves directed at the tumour. Small areas inside the body can be heated using thin wire probes, hollow tubes filled with warm water, or implanted microwave antennae and radio frequency electrodes.
Regional hyperthermia heats a part of the body such as a limb, organ or cavity. This can achieved by heating blood that has been isolated, removed, heated and pumped back into the same region in a process called perfusion. Magnets and other devices that produce high energy can be positioned over an area to be heated.
Whole-body hyperthermia is used when treating metastatic cancer that has spread throughout the body. This can be achieved by using warm water blankets, inductive coils, hot wax, thermal room or chambers to raise the body temperature. There are no known complications. Side effects may include local pain or skin discomfort. Occasionally hyperthermia can cause blisters or burns but these generally heal quickly.
Scientists have long recognised that cancer cells are more sensitive to heat and that they break down at high temperatures. After the Renaissance, many reports showed that there were spontaneous tumour regressions in patients suffering from influenza, smallpox, malaria and tuberculosis; where the common factor was an infectious fever around 104 degrees.
In 1984 hyperthermia was given a legal status of an approved medical procedure in the US. The principles of using heat were widely understood but the technology was not capable of directing the heat in a concentrated area. Today, controlled heating is applied with fine sensors and directional applicators using microwaves and computers.