Hyperthermia - an effective ’alternative’ cancer treatment

Hyperthermia - an effective ’alternative’ cancer treatment

A patient-friendly overview on the uses of Hyperthermia to damage and kill cancer cells and tumours, by heating them to 106°- 113° F, and used as a treatment in its own right or to make treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy more effective.

The first version of this overview was written in 2007, and the 'skeptics' criticised us, calling the use of whole body or localised hyperthermia to treat cancer 'pure quackery'. But the 'alternative' cancer therapy is now accepted as a mainstream treatment. Hyperthermia is now fully supported and endorsed by the American National Cancer Institute. It has been used locally to effectively treat various cancers including lung cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer and kidney cancer. It has been used as a whole body treatment to improve the effectiveness of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Hyperthermia to treat cancer is also called thermal therapy, thermal ablation, or thermotherapy. 

Hyperthermia as an effective alternative cancer treatment?

Hyperthermia is the use of heat to kill, weaken or sensitise cancer cells. You can be treated in three ways in which it used:
        1. Whole-body hyperthermia where the use of controlled heat causes significant changes to take place inside cancer cells but has no effect on healthy cells. Cancer cells are damaged at much lower temperatures than healthy cells. Studies also suggest that cancer killing compounds are formed at these higher temperatures and the immune system receives a boost. Whole body hyperthermia is useful for enhancing the effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, especially in cases of metastatic cancer.

        2. Regional hyperthermia where a region of the body is heated. This may be a limb or an organ such as the liver; and is called Regional Perfusion. The blood supply to a part of the body is pumped into a heating unit, and then pumped back into the desired area; chemotherapy then follows into the preheated area. This has been used with liver cancer, sarcoma and melanoma. A version of it called HIPEC is used with multiple metastases throughout the peritoneum. Sometimes, deep tissue hyperthermia can involve heating using a radiofrequency device or microwave energy to the underlying cancer.

        3. Localised hyperthermia or Ablation can be used as a minimally-invasive alternative cancer treatment to treat a number of solid cancers instead of surgery or even radiotherapy. Either ’heating’ (Thermal Ablation) or ’freezing’ (Cryoablation) the cancer tumour can be very successful. It has already been used by hospitals in Europe and America to treat prostate cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer and others. Clinical studies have shown its abilities to treat bone metastases successfully too.

This comprehensive review now looks at some of the research and the background:

1. Whole-body hyperthermia

Total body hyperthermia or whole-body hyperthermia as a concept is far from new. It was used by the Greeks and Egyptians. Studies in the 1920s at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center noted that some cancer patients went into remission when they developed a fever, just as the Greeks and Egyptians had said.

Go To: An article on the Background and development of hyperthermia

This led to the controlled use of dead bacteria (Coley’s Toxins) where the induced fever was shown to stimulate defences, while the heat effect killed the cancer cells. The hospital is still using heat in conjunction with chemotherapy in a treatment called HIPEC, hyperthermic intra-peritoneal chemotherapy, where temperatures of 107 degrees are used to presensitise cancer cells in the peritoneum to the chemotherapy.

People having chemo- or radiotherapy, can go to a centre specialising in Hyperthermia and they will have a heating chamber. Other patients use warm water, or saunas or heating blankets.

There is research (
Van der Zee J. et al, Annals of Oncology 2002, and, Hildebrandt et al, Critical reviews in oncology 2002) that shows the biochemical evidence for the potential of whole-body hyperthermia on its own, but there are newer and important studies on its benefits with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Much is listed on the website of the National Cancer Institute in America. Clearly, whole body hyperthermia improves outcomes of chemotherapy and radiotherapy by making the cancer cells more sensitive, and more easily killed.

In Australia, cancer expert
Dr. John Holt used whole-body Hyperthermia along with glutathione and cysteine to restrict glucose uptake by cancer cells. Hugely successful, he has sadly now retired. 

Go To: The pioneering hyperthermia work of Dr. John Holt

The National Cancer Institute on its Website states that whole-body hyperthermia can kill cancer cells and improve the results of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Clinical trials on both are under way in America. A particular benefit of whole body Hyperthermia is that it can be used to improve treatments for metastatic cancer.

Review: Whole-body Hyperthermia kills cancer cells

2. Localised hyperthermia, or cancer ablation

We find localised hyperthermia, or cancer ablation, tumour ablation, or ablatherm, much, much more interesting as a minimally invasive alternative cancer treatment. It is clearly an alternative to surgery. Indeed we have been championing it since 2005, despite skeptics and other charities criticising both us and the treatment. Our stance now been totally vindicated.

Increasingly ablation or cryoablation is used with liver cancer, kidney cancer, some tumours in lung cancer and prostate cancer.

Cancer ablation uses thermal energy to heat and kill the cancer cells locally. It can also be called Thermal Ablation. Ablation can totally kill small tumours. It can be quick, effective and have minimal side-effects.

   2.2. Tumour ablation via a heated needle 

This methodology is used by American Hospitals such as Johns Hopkins, where a tiny hole (less than 3mm) allows a needle-like probe to be used inside the body. The probe is guided by Computed Tomography (CT) for example into the cancer and the probe is then attached to a generator to heat the cancer. You can think of it as ’melting’, or ’burning’ the cancer away. It is 100% successful for small solid tumours. The patient is often conscious, having only localised anaesthetic. 

Treatment can last anything from 30 minutes to two hours depending upon the size and number of the tumours.

One way to heat the probe is using Radio waves as the energy source. It is thus called
Radiofrequency Ablation, or RFA.

Another way is via Microwaves - called MicroWave Ablation or MWA.

This methodology has been used as an alternative to surgery in the treatment of lung cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer and even bone cancer. Typically, these will be deemed ’inoperable’ or ’hard to treat’, so surgeons don’t feel threatened by the new technology!  Now all cancers are potential targets - for example, pancreatic, bladder and breast.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is that where someone has three small lung tumours, they can each be tackled by Tumour Ablation.

Read more: Ablation as an effective alternative to cancer surgery

In Europe, private clinics like Klinik St Georg in Germany use this system to treat prostate cancer. Positioned in the centre of the prostate, just two sessions in 5 days kills the tumour. They claim a 100 per cent success rate, but only 75 per cent if the patient has had a biopsy. 

Professor Andy Adam at 
Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, uses it on kidney tumours. The technique is only used when surgery cannot be used, since in wonderful "catch 22" fashion, there are quite large numbers of kidney surgeries and hence good data on survival rates, but a far lesser knowledge of survival rates for ablation. Go figure!

The temperature can also be controlled. At a temperature, usually around 106 - 107 degrees (but sometimes as high as 113 degrees) cancer cells die, but there is no harm done to surrounding healthy tissue.

2.2. High Intensity Focussed Ultrasound
We have been excited about using HIFU with prostate cancer since 2005 and have championed this methodology as an alternative to prostate cancer surgery. In the USA, experts like John Jurige in Louisville is actually administering the treatment not just in the prostate but around it, to mop up cancer cells released by biopsy.

Go to: Prostate cancer and HIFU;

Go to: An exclusive interview on HIFU and prostate cancer with Professor Mark Emberton.

In 2016 HIFU has seen the results of a major research study where bone metastases successfully treatment with ultrasound hyperthermia at the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK.  Secondary metastases were ’blasted’ by ultrasound, literally melting all the cancer cells away without harming the healthy cells’. HIFU has now been described by Professor Gail ter Haar at the ICR as a treatment of ’Immense Potential’ for any cancer’. Patients of ours who have contacted the ICR have found they have denied all knowledge of this research.

   2.3. Cryoablation

In fact, you can kill the cancer cells by freezing them too. At -40 degrees C cancer cells die. OK. So it’s technically the opposite of hyperthermia! A similar methodology is used for ’cryosurgery’ with a hollow probe passing a freezing liquid or gas into the tumour. 

In the UK, there was a private group of expert doctors performing ablation and cryoablation -
Cancer Ablation UK. They claimed on their Website to use it for kidney cancer, lung cancer, bone cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer amongst others. However, they are now not answering their phones, and their Website has been decommissioned.

   2.4. Using an electrical current

In late 2011 more great news came with a report of three breast cancer studies using Preferential Radiofrequency Ablation at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Over 80 women had been successfully treated using Ablation - this time, a ten minute localised treatment involving the application of electrodes either side of a solid breast cancer tumour, under local anaesthetic. All the women had had no recurrence in the following two years. The Karolinska researchers were ecstatic. ’Women can have the treatment in their lunch time and go back to work’, said one.

Go to: breast cancer and localised hyperthermia.

However, the original three studies seem to have been removed from the Karolinska’s website. One possible explanation is this: 

The Nanoknife IRE - Irreversible Electroporation - This technique, rather like the Karolinska’s uses two long needles to go deep inside the body - to treat ’inoperable’ cancers. A current is passed between the needles causing ’nano’ holes in the cancer cell membranes. All then ’leak’ and are destroyed. The ’inoperable cancers’ bit is clearly a ploy. 20 hospitals in the USA are already using the patented treatment - it will not be long before this treatment is used on any solid tumour deep seated or not, and is a real alternative cancer therapy of potential.

Go to: A review of the Nanoknife IRE.

At CANCERactive we have had patients who used it successfully for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It is expensive though and in England the results have been less positive than America.

Hyperthermia - the CANCERactive view

We are genuinely excited about localised Hyperthermia or Ablation. To my mind (Chris Woollams) this is a non-invasive, quick, potential cure for cancer. Especially where you catch it early and the tumours are small. This is the way forward in cancer treatment.

The problem is that the politics get in the way. The lack of speed to bring this treatment to the public is indicative that vested interests abound - whether it is amongst traditional surgeons or Big Pharma. 

Whole-body hyperthermia is a completely different ball game. Clearly hyperthermia can weaken or sensitise cancer cells so that radiotherapy or chemotherapy can give much better results. It also means less chemotherapy with hyperthermia could achieve the same results as chemo without hyperthermia. 

We regularly suggest patients look into having whole body hyperthermia with their chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments. And we often suggest that patients look into the use of localised hyperthermia (ablation) for lung nodules, localiszed prostate cancer, kidney cancers and some liver tumours.

Go to: 10 ways to make your cancer drugs work better and reduce the side-effects


 At last - the definitive, research-based book on how to build a diet to help beat cancer. Click here to read about it.


Hyperthermia as an effective cancer treatment
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