Whole-body hyperthermia helps kill cancer cells

Infra-red body

Using heat to kill cancer cells

This review is about whole-body Hyperthermia and its use to treat cancer. While hyperthermia used locally can liquify tumours, hyperthermia used as a whole-body treatment can improve the effectiveness of standard radiotherapy, chemotherapy and ’alternative’ cancer-starving therapies. One London Hospital Oncologist quoted below, believes that every UK cancer hospital should have a hyperthermia unit, such is the significant improvement in 5-year survival and the potential to ’cure’ cancer, while another mainstream Doctor calls it ’a promising way to improve cancer treatment’.

Whole-body hyperthermia has history as a cancer treatment 

Most of us have experienced the positive effects of a hot bath on aching muscles, or the balm of holiday sun on an English winter body. Heat just feels good.

We use heat for healing in many ways - for instance a hot water bottle on the tummy for period pains or a microwave-heated wheat-pack on stiff and aching neck muscles. For centuries, humans have benefited from sweating - from Turkish baths to the saunas in modern spas.  The Egyptians treated tumours with heat back in 5,000 BC; Parminides, a Greek Physician in 500BC said ’Give me a chance to create a fever, and I will cure any disease’.

Modern medicine also noted that cancer patients who developed a fever sometimes went into remission. Such an observation prompted Memorial Sloan-Kettering Doctor William Coley in 1891 to publish a paper on how inducing a fever in the body of a cancer patient might stimulate the immune response and cause cancer remission. Subsequently, Coley developed the use of certain bacteria to generate a fever, although results were mixed. Coley’s Toxins, or vaccines, were used with varying success up until the Thalidomide problems, when the FDA demanded Clinical Trials. This effectively stopped their use. Similarly German Studies also fell foul of regulators.

What was interesting was that where Coley’s Toxins had an effect, it was thought due to a ’total’ healing experience. Not merely the product of a heightened immune system, the tissues fought to cleanse themselves, while the raised body temperature seemed to actually ’liquify’ the cancer cells.

DIY Hyperthermia Treatments?

A whole spectrum of treatments using heat that can be applied to cancer has hit the market: Everything from saunas to increase blood flow and detoxification to treatments involving very hot footbaths and alternating hot and cold pads on the back of the neck, or using an infrared lamp on tumour sites. Infrared saunas supposedly increase blood flow and immune response generally.  Ceramic heaters emit infrared heat in the same range as the human body, making it easier to absorb. Easier absorption also means that the infrared heat penetrates deeper into body tissues than traditional hot air saunas - up to an inch-and-a-half. This allows for greater circulation and detoxification - both good for people with cancer. Items can be bought on the internet from the US for around $500 and used at home.

According to one manufacturer, "One session in a good quality radiant heat sauna will burn as many calories as you would rowing or jogging for 30 minutes - up to 600 or more. Infrared or radiant heat warms your body directly and provides a healthy purifying sweat at much lower temperatures than standard steam saunas. Infrared saunas provide a highly enjoyable sauna environment at temperatures as low as 100F with fresh air continually circulating through its ventilation so you can still breathe normally and without the discomfort which is the case with the hot, steamy saunas found in some homes and at health spas."

Open quotesInfrared light is the lower range of the light spectrum, not visible to the eye, which generates warmth on sunny daysClose quotes


Infrared light is the lower range of the light spectrum, not visible to the eye, which generates warmth on sunny days. The wavelength of infrared waves ranges from 0.76 microns to 1,000 microns, with far infrared rays occupying the higher range. Their key attributes are the ability to radiate out from a localised spot and, unlike visible light, they can penetrate deeply into the skin and underlying tissues. They naturally generate heat by causing the body’s molecules to rapidly vibrate against each other.


While they can assist with improving circulation and immune system response, the real question is do they impact on the cancer?

Medical Hyperthermia, or Therapeutic Hyperthermia

At the other end of the scale is medically-supervised hyperthermia - available in two forms: whole-body hyperthermia and localised hyperthermia.

Where the whole-body is heated, this may not kill cancer cells or affect a tumour, but it makes the cancer cells much more sensitive to the effects of radiotherapy or drugs.

Where heat is applied locally directly to a tumour area, it is called ABLATHERM. And here it has been shown to kill cancer cells and even ’liquify’ tumours. Deep tissue tumours (for example, kidney, prostate) are already being treated using localised hyperthermia with success; even bone metastases. We have another article covering localised hyperthermia:

For Localised Hyperthermia Go To: Hyperthermia as an alternative cancer treatment 

Elsewhere on this site you can read about Dr. John Holt’s Pioneering work on Hyperthermia in Australia, which combines using radio waves to heat the tumours with glucose-blocking agents like glutathione and cysteine which the cancer cell absorbs. Glucose is essential to the energy systems of a cancer cell; without it the cancer cell dies. It’s a true double-whammy. The heat produced by the radio waves encourages the uptake of glutathione and cysteine and the cancer cell dies. As usual, Holt was dubbed a quack and a TV crew sent to rubbish his work. Unfortunately, they could only really find patients praising his work. Sadly, his work seems to have retired with him.

Whole-Body hyperthermia cancer treatment

The principle arguments for whole body hyperthermia are:  

1. Cancer cells are much more sensitive to and intolerant of the effects of excessive heat than normal cells. 

2. Tumours have an impaired ability to adapt their blood circulation to the effects of high temperatures and thus hyperthermia can cause a reduction of blood flow to a tumour. 

3. Temperatures from 106 degrees and above pushes cancer cells toward acidosis (decreased cellular pH) which decreases the cells viability and ability to spread. 

4. Higher body temperatures activate the immune system, causing both increased production of interferon alpha, and increased immune surveillance. German expert, Professor Rolf Issels, believes that hyperthermia increases ’heat shock’ proteins on the surface of the cancer cells making them more prone to attack by the immune system. 

5. Whole-body hyperthermia can be used to treat cancers that have metastasised.

Combination Therapies

The success of the treatment on its own is not significant, but it has been used most successfully in conjunction with other treatments.

For example, tumour masses tend to have oxygen-deprived (hypoxic) cells within the inner part of the tumour. These cells are resistant to radiation, but they are very sensitive to heat. This makes hyperthermia is an ideal companion treatment to radiation. Radiation kills the oxygenated outer cells, while hyperthermia acts on the inner low oxygen cells making them more susceptible to radiation damage.

Open quotesHyperthermia overcomes tumour resistance to chemo and radiationClose quotes


In March 2000, the respected medical journal, The Lancet published the results of a six-year cancer study comparing the effectiveness of combined hyperthermia and radiation with radiation treatment alone. The trials reported are a randomised, Phase III study performed on 358 patients with cancer. Although the study showed promise for the treatment of advanced cervical, bladder and colorectal cancer, the most remarkable results were obtained with advanced cervical cancer. Complete disappearance of the tumour was obtained in 83% of those who received the combined treatment, compared to 57% who were treated with radiation alone. In addition, the three-year survival rate for those who received the combined treatments nearly doubled (improved 89%), compared with those who just received radiation. The study was well-received in the Netherlands where it was conducted, and the treatment has received government approval. The other advantage noted in the report was the fact that there was none of the nausea often experienced with radiation, and hospitalisation was not required.


In a 2001 research study by Issels, a 5-year trial on sarcoma patients using such combination therapies produced remarkable improvements. With 59 patients the 5-year survival doubled from the conventional treatment norm of around 25 per cent to 49 per cent with 36 patients being completely disease-free after 5 years.

In the 2009 Berlin European Society of Medical Oncology a presentation on Sarcoma using chemotherapy alone, or chemotherapy plus hyperthermia showed that in a randomised trial, the group also using hyperthermia almost doubled their survival times from a mean of 18 months to over 32 months (Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2010: Twombley).

The National Cancer Institute in America states that ’Hyperthermia may make some cells more sensitive to radiation or harm other cells that radiation can’t damage’.

Open quotesHyperthermia allows very high doses of chemotherapy to be administered more successfully and sometimes without significant side-effects Close quotes


There are a number of German clinics, such as those operated by Dr. Peter Wolf (Hyperthermia Centre Hanover) or by Dr. Herzog (Die Fachklinik) and Dr. Douwes (Klinik St Georg), that practice the use of hyperthermia in combination with more ’orthodox’ therapies. 


The use of hyperthermia with chemotherapy, according to one report in the Lancet, seems to significantly increase 5-year survival rates and chemotherapy success. 

This is supported by a review on whole-body hyperthermia by the National Cancer Institute in America which states that raising body temperatures to 113oF degrees can damage and kill cancer cells’ and ’may shrink tumours’.

Importantly, the review states that ’numerous clinical trials have studied hyperthermia with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Many of these studies have shown a significant reduction in tumour size’. Cancers quoted include, sarcoma, melanoma, cancers of the head and neck, brain, breast, rectum, liver, bladder and more. 


Another multi-paper review in the Lancet across the USA and Europe reported that response rates for chemo and hyperthermia combined are 70%, whilst hyperthermia alone gives a response rate of 15%. Chemotherapy alone can give results of 5 - 60% depending upon the drug, and radiotherapy alone about 35%. Hyperthermia also appears to allow very high doses of chemotherapy to be administered more successfully and sometimes without significant side-effects.


What seems to be the case is that hyperthermia overcomes tumour resistance to chemo and radiation; that it can help the performance of some chemo agents and that it helps destroy cancer cells in especially resistant phases of cell division. It is a great example of Integrative cancer treatment, exactly what CANCERactive believes in.

How can you improve your personal odds of survival using hyperthermia?

Open quotes"Hyperthermia is the only agent to treat cancer that does not itself appear to be oncogenic (cancer-inducing)."Close quotes

Firstly, what does treatment consist of? Generally speaking, whole-body hyperthermia induces a fever. Patients lie naked in a structure that is like a small tent, where they are closely monitored. The idea is that the body is heated to extremely high temperatures - between 107 and 113 degrees F - not exactly a pleasant sensation, so patients are generally sedated so they can tolerate the heat.

But if you want treatment using hyperthermia you may well need to look abroad. Cancer patients in Britain encouraged by the above account may be disappointed to hear that hyperthermia isn’t readily available at their local hospital. Sadly, the one private specialist, Dr Fritz Schellander of the Liongate Clinic in Tunbridge Wells, has retired too! One of his patients was featured in the Living Proof section of icon. Hazel Scade abandoned conventional treatment for breast cancer in favour of a less-invasive route. In addition to many nutritional therapies she used some localised hyperthermia, and wrote about her experience in the July 2003 issue. She quoted a Dr. TK Hei of the Columbia University College of Physicians who stated, "Hyperthermia is the only agent to treat cancer that does not itself appear to be oncogenic (cancer-inducing)." Sadly, although Hazel beat the 5-year milestone very successfully, she passed away in 2008. 

The Raphael Centre, in Hildenborough, Tonbridge, Kent did provide an option but seems to have stopped the service. It used the latest generation Heckl machine that has water cooled lamps allowing the body to move to internal fever temperature levels (around 104 degrees) without the skin being damaged. No sedation is required therefore. Dr Maurice Orange of the centre adds, "Dose is decided according to tolerance. If used in conjunction with chemotherapy, a patient might have a session once a week or fortnightly, whilst having hyperthermia treatment usually around two or three days away from the chemotherapy"

Open quotesHyperthermia can be effective even when other treatments have failedClose quotes

Hyperthermia, an Integrative Treatment for advanced cancer  

Dr. Clare Vernon of the Hammersmith Hospital, London is another enthusiast, quoted in The Lancet as saying, "I think every major cancer centre should have a hyperthermia unit. Hyperthermia was used at the hospital for around 25 years, but it is not currently available for a variety of reasons, none to do with its efficacy."

Dr Vernon says, "Hyperthermia is very effective even when other treatments have failed. It’s also relatively cheap and well tolerated." Dr Vernon now refers patients to the Daniel den Hoed Cancer Centre, part of the University Hospital in Rotterdam, who have a large team devoted to the treatment and an increasing number of referrals. They say, "We are convinced that the increased patient referral by radiation and medical oncology reflects their confidence in the value of hyperthermia as a standard treatment for advanced cancer."

Work on Hyperthermia is moving fast - both as a localised direct treatment on tumours and as an aid to current treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The American Cancer Society describes it as ’A Promising Way to improve cancer treatment’. So let’s please see some NHS action!

Isn’t it time the NHS turned up the heat on cancer?

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