Fever kills cancer?

June 15, 2009 9:28:50 AM PDT
A person's risk of developing pancreatic cancer -- one of the deadliest cancers -- is one in 76. According to the National Cancer Institute, 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients live one year past diagnosis. The cancer begins in the pancreas, an organ deep in the abdomen that produces insulin and other hormones. One of the reasons this type of cancer is so deadly is it's usually caught too late. "Only about 20 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer are even ever considered candidates for surgery because by the time it is diagnosed, the tumor has spread to the point where surgical resection is not an option," David Linehan, M.D., chief of hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., told Ivanhoe.KILLING CANCER WITH FEVER: Some doctors are wielding a new weapon in the fight against cancer: whole-body hyperthermia. The treatment involves heating the entire body to up to 108 degrees, essentially causing a fever much like one that would accompany a bad case of the flu. During whole-body hyperthermia, body temperature is raised by using warm-water blankets, inductive coils like those in electric blankets or thermal chambers. Another type of hyperthermia called localized hyperthermia -- also called thermal ablation -- can also destroy small areas of cancer cells and malignant tumors. The American Cancer Society says a major of advantage of both whole-body and localized hyperthermia is the fact that they help other forms of cancer treatment work more effectively. Whole-body hyperthermia has been shown to boost the effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy for many types of cancer including small cell lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.In order for a hyperthermia treatment to work, doctors have to maintain an exact temperature for a certain amount of time. Otherwise, the treatment is ineffective or even dangerous.

Joan Bull, M.D., an oncologist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston is investigating a combination of whole-body hyperthermia and chemotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic and small cell lung cancer, as well as other neuroendocrine cancers. She reports significant positive results so far. Before receiving the hyperthermia treatment, patients receive IV fluid for six hours followed by a chemotherapy infusion. Two days after the chemo treatment, the patient's body temperature is carefully raised to 104 degrees using infrared radiant heat and maintained at that temperature for six hours. The patient receives additional chemotherapy during the hyperthermia process. Throughout the heat treatment, patients are lightly sedated.

SIDE EFFECTS: Just as fever that accompanies the flu causes unpleasant side effects, whole-body hyperthermia comes with its own. The treatment can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. More serious side effects include complications of the heart, blood vessels and lungs.

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