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Hyperthermia Therapy


Hyperthermia is one of the most powerful anticancer, antiviral, and antibacterial therapies available, yet it is underutilized and largely unknown in North America. Hyperthermia treatment involves raising the temperature of the whole body, or of local areas of the body to 39 to 43 degrees C (102 F to 109 F). Research has shown that high temperatures stimulate cellular immunity and can damage cancer cells, usually with minimal injury to normal tissues.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 By damaging proteins and structures within cancer cells, hyperthermia may shrink tumors.6 In general, malignant cells are more sensitive to heat than are normal cells in the range of 41-45°C. In addition, most clinically apparent tumors (above 1-cm diameter) have blood perfusion rates less than 1/5 that of surrounding normal tissue, meaning that they may be preferentially heated. In Europe, hyperthermia is considered the 4th major modality of cancer therapy along with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. And in Europe, hyperthermia is often utilized as an adjunctive therapy with various conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but in some clinics, is also used alongside biological regulatory therapies.7 As hyperthermia is non-myelosuppressive and can potentiate the tumoricidal effects of biological regulatory therapies, its use as part of a multimodality treatment approach is attractive. The positive results of randomized trials have established hyperthermia alone, or in combination with biological regulatory therapies, as an effective clinical modality for the treatment of cancer.

Temperature is a highly conserved and important parameter in all living systems. In mammalians, particularly in humans, a narrow range of 37.0 – 37.5 °C is attempted to be maintained by regulation. In this range, the complicated cellular and physiological processes work most efficiently. Under stress conditions, e.g. infectious diseases, fever is a reaction of the organism to better handle external attacks. Hence, fever is a natural defense reaction of the human body. The immune system’s defense cells work best at a temperature above 39 degrees Celsius (102 F.). At this temperature, all metabolic and detoxification processes are intensely stimulated. This helps overcome infections, inflammations and pain much quicker and more effectively. During fever, the build-up of perspiration activates the excretion of toxic substances. This purifies the body and improves metabolism and after the fever subsides, the body relaxes, and the pain disappears.

The following are complementary effects of fever:

  • Increase in blood circulation and oxygenation of tissues

  • Acceleration of metabolism, detoxification, and excretion processes

  • Relaxation of muscle tension

  • Increased stimulus conduction of nerve fibers

  • Stimulation of cellular immune defenses

  • Inactivation of chronic bacteria and viruses

Hyperthermia treatment may be local (tumor only), regional (e.g., a limb), or whole body. Physical techniques for hyperthermia include metabolic heat containment, conduction through the skin (e.g., hot water bath), perfusion of externally heated blood, heated intravenous fluids and anesthetic gases, ultrasound, and electro-magnetic EM coupling modalities. Thermometric requirements vary with the treatment modality and clinical situation. Until the late 1990s, the use of radiant whole-body hyperthermia (WBHT) was restricted to a few specialized treatment centers worldwide. During the last decade, a larger number of WBHT-devices were put into operation particularly in Germany. Worldwide, hyperthermia is becoming more utilized clinically, due to the substantial technical improvements made in achieving selected increase of temperatures in superficial and deep-seated tumors. In North America, however, it is rarely used, and then only as part of an alternative cancer treatment protocol or research project.

History of Hyperthermia

Fever as the imminent sign of infectious diseases has been used as a diagnostic indicator since ancient times. The effectiveness of heat as a therapy against disease is believed to be known since 3000 B.C.8 Parmenides, a Greek physician and philosopher 2500 years ago said, “Give me a chance to create a fever and I will cure any disease.” Fever is one of the body’s best defensive and healing forces, created and sustained for the purpose of restoring health. Belief in the curative effect of fever was also shared by Celsus, a Roman author of the first systematic treatise on medicine "De Medicina," and Rufus of Ephesus, a Greek physician who lived at the turn of the 1st and 2nd century. Celsus described the hot baths as a tool in the treatment of various diseases.

There has been a historic, cross-cultural recognition of the benefit of fever and heat therapy. The healing effect of heat was first mentioned in the early civilizations of ancient Egypt, where baths in hot desert sand were prescribed for the ill. Doctors of ancient Greece started using this therapeutic approach and named it “overheating” (in Greek: hyperthermia). Other examples are the Roman sulfur hot baths, Finnish saunas, Japanese hot baths, Native American sweat lodges, and the many therapeutic hot springs in Europe, Iceland and in the Americas. Saunas and hot baths do not significantly increase core body temperature enough to have an anti-cancerous effect, but they have been shown to stimulate the immune system. More technologically innovative approaches have developed that increase core temperature or local temperature of tumor tissue to levels that damage or destroy cancer cells.

Bacteria Induced Fever Therapy - William Coley and Coley’s Toxins

The history of bacteria induced fever therapy (fever induction therapy) began in the mid-19th century by several European physicians. One of the first papers on hyperthermia was published in 1866 by a German surgeon Carl D. W. Busch. He described the case of a 43-year-old woman with advanced sarcoma on her face. After the tumor was removed, the patient fell ill with erysipelas. The disease induced high temperature which led to tumor regression for over two years. Busch’s discovery was fundamental because it was the first reported case showing that high temperature can selectively kill cancerous cells while not affecting normal cells.9 Along that time others reported that cancer patients who experienced a feverish period after surgery survived significantly longer than patients without fever. In 1882, Fehleisen discovered the erysipelas causative organism as Streptococcus pyogenes. He inoculated these live bacteria to seven cancer patients and achieved complete remission in 3 cases.10 In the second half of the 19th century, the practice of infectious febrile therapy was quite common not only in Germany and France, but also in Russia, and it was used to treat a wide range of diseases.