Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Hyperthermia

What is hyperthermia in cancer treatment?
How is it used?
Are there any side effects?

What is hyperthermia in cancer treatment?

Hyperthermia is heat therapy. Heat has been used for hundreds of years as therapy. According to the National Cancer Institute, scientists believe that heat may help shrink tumors by damaging cells or depriving them of the substances they need to live. There are research studies underway to determine the use and effectiveness of hyperthermia in cancer treatment.

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How is it used?

Heat can be applied to a very small area or to an organ or limb. Hyperthermia is usually used with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other treatment therapies. The types of hyperthermia are described in the following chart:

Type of hyperthermia

Treatment area

Method of application

Local hyperthermia

Treatment area includes a tumor or other small area.

Heat is applied from the outside with high-frequency waves aimed at the tumor.

OR

Inside the body a small area may be heated with thin heated-wire probes, hollow tubes filled with warm water, or implanted microwave antennae and radio-frequency electrodes.

Regional hyperthermia

An organ or a limb is treated.

Magnets and devices that produce high energy are placed over the region to be heated.

OR

Some of the patient’s blood is removed, heated and then pumped into the region to be heated. The process is called perfusion.

Whole body hyperthermia

The whole body is treated when cancer has spread.

Warm water blankets

Hot wax

Inductive coils (similar to the coils in an electric blanket)

Thermal room or chambers

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Are there any side effects?

There are no known complications of hyperthermia. Side effects may include skin discomfort or local pain. Hyperthermia also can cause blisters and occasionally burns but generally these heal quickly.

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