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How Hyperthermia Works

Hyperthermia Cancer Treatments

Not all cases of hyperthermia happen in unplanned and uncontrolled situations. Doctors can induce hyperthermia as part of a treatment approach for some types of cancer. Increasing the temperature of certain tumors renders them more susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It may also make cancer cells more vulnerable to certain types of cancer medication [source: National Cancer Institute].

Some types of cancer cells suffer damage when heated above a particular temperature. Depending on the cancer, this temperature may be low enough to safely use hyperthermia to weaken cancer cells without also damaging healthy tissue. The method of increasing the body's temperature is also important.

One way to induce hyperthermia is to use thermal chambers or hot water blankets. These devices will heat the entire body, raising its temperature. Doctors use these devices to treat metastatic cancers -- these cancers spread from the point of origin to other parts of the body.

Doctors can also target specific regions to induce hyperthermia and treat cancer cells. One technique is perfusion, which involves removing some of the cancer patient's blood, heating the blood and reintroducing it into the body part that contains the cancer. Another approach is continuous hyperthermic peritoneal perfusion (CHPP). Using this method, doctors introduce heated anticancer drugs into the peritoneal cavity -- that's the part of your body that contains your liver, intestines and stomach. They introduce the drugs during surgery.

Doctors can also use microwaves, radiofrequencies or ultrasound to energize cancer cells and induce heat. These methods are very precise -- doctors can concentrate hyperthermia therapy to just the cancer cells and minimize the effects on healthy tissue.

Typically, doctors will pair hyperthermia treatments with some other form of cancer treatment. The doctors will usually apply hyperthermia approaches as a separate treatment -- it's rare to have both chemotherapy or radiation therapy and hyperthermia therapy at the same time.

There are potential side effects. Doctors are introducing heat to a patient's body. There's the potential for burns and blisters. Most side effects are only temporary and not severe [source: National Cancer Institute].