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What are the Pros and Cons of Using Hyperthermia for Cancer?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 17, 2024
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One of the benefits for using hyperthermia for cancer treatment is that the doctors can ease back on radiation or chemotherapy drugs. In addition, some forms of the treatment do not require surgery, there are fewer side effects, and the adverse effect on nearby healthy cells is reduced compared with more conventional treatments. The drawbacks of this method include the increased length of the treatments compared with traditional methods. Using hyperthermia for cancer treatment also requires the use of specialized equipment and training and carries various side effects. It also requires the medical professional to keep the treatment temperature at a specific range, a technique that is not easy to accomplish.

Perhaps one of the major benefits of using hyperthermia for cancer treatment is that it makes nonsurgical treatment of cancer possible. By using the appropriate forms of the treatment, a tumor can be destroyed without cutting open the body or removing tissue. This can be an important component for a person with breast cancer, for example. In such a case, a person may be able to effectively treat breast cancer without resorting to a mastectomy, a surgery in which doctors remove breast tissue. In addition, some practitioners claim the chances of the cancer recurring are lower compared with the recurrence of cancer treated with more traditional methods.

Another useful benefit for using hyperthermia for cancer treatment is that it allows radiation and some chemotherapy drugs to do their jobs more effectively. The heat increases the blood flow to the cells, oxygenating them. The higher level of oxygen may make cancer cells more prone to be destroyed by the anticancer treatments. In addition, since the doctor may not need to use as much radiation or chemotherapy, a patient may experience a lower incidence of the side effects, such as weakness and hair loss, associated with those treatments.

While there are benefits to using hyperthermia for cancer treatment, there are also drawbacks. One such drawback is the side effects associated with the treatment. The side effects are linked to the type of hyperthermia treatment used. For example, some of the side effects of a local hyperthermia treatment are bleeding, blood clots, blisters, and damage to skin and nerves around the treated area. Some of the side effects of a whole-body treatment can include diarrhea and vomiting, as well as cardiac and vascular disorders.

Another drawback to using hyperthermia for cancer treatment is that treatments usually take longer than traditional methods: more than an hour of hyperthermia compared with 15 minutes of radiation, for example. Hyperthermia also requires specialized equipment and staff training in the different hyperthermia techniques. Training can be especially important since the temperature has to stay within a certain range while the treatment is occurring. The desired temperature — between 104 and about 111°F (40 to 44°C) — must be maintained so that the benefits of the heat can be administered without causing burns within the patient. Temperature control can be a tricky venture because there may not be an accurate way to measure the temperature in a tumor.

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