SIDEBAR: Expect Questions From Your Patients About Hyperthermia

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Most but not all cancer treatment with hyperthermia is still being done in clinical trials. The exception is using hyperthermia for superficial cancers, most commonly chest wall recurrences in the breast. Using hyperthermia for superficial cancer “is approved and reimbursable by Medicare,” Mark W. Dewhirst, DVM, PhD, told The ASCO Post. Dr. Dewhirst is Professor of Radiation Oncology and Director of the Radiation Oncology Program at Duke University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, North Carolina, and served as director of a clinical program grant to study the use of hyperthermia in the treatment of cancer.

Several centers in the United States currently use hyperthermia to treat superficial cancers, Dr. Dewhirst said. Patients interested in hyperthermia for other than superficial cancers, should consult the National Institutes of Health clinical trial database at

Potential Side Effects

Patients pursuing hypothermia should be aware of the potential complications or side effects. “The main side effect that you can get is burns on the skin, and it is particularly problematic in somebody who has had surgery in an area where there is enervation so they can’t feel it,” Dr. Dewhirst said. “Generally, people who are really skilled in hyperthermia will use thermometers in the treatment area to make sure it doesn’t get too hot.”

Thermometers may be placed through catheters. “Some clinicians have left those catheters in place, so that they don’t have to go back and put them in again every time they administer a heat treatment,” Dr. Dewhirst explained, and “some patients with deep-seated tumors, such as rectal cancers, have ended up with infections.”

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) fact sheet, “Hyperthermia in Cancer Treatment,” notes that regional perfusion techniques used to treat cancers in the arms and legs, or in some organs such as the liver or lung, can cause tissue swelling, blood clots, bleeding, and other damage to normal tissues in the perfused area. “However, most of these side effects are temporary. Whole-body hyperthermia can cause more serious side effects, including cardiac and vascular disorders, but these effects are uncommon. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are commonly observed after whole-body hyperthermia.” The NCI fact sheet can be accessed at ■

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