There’s no shortage of films, particularly in the science fiction and horror genres, that use massive blasts of fire, bombs, and other burning weapons to eradicate whatever problem they’re battling (aliens and monsters come to mind).
So, it’s not a huge leap to understand why humans applied that same logic to physical plagues like cancer. But I’m not only talking about blasts of chemotherapy or scorching radiation– no, there’s a better kind of therapeutic fire that many people don’t hear about.
Just like cinematic fires successfully kill off the bad guys when the heat of a fever is used therapeutically against cancer (and other diseases) it works well.
Think about the last time you had a fever. That was your body getting hotter than normal because it was trying to kill off whatever virus or bacteria got you sick. Most bacteria and viruses can thrive at your normal body temperature but go a few degrees hotter and it’s harder for them to survive.1
Getting a fever is also your body’s way of turning up your immune system. When your body registers a higher temperature, that speeds up the work rate of your cells—including the ones designated to fight illness. That also means those cells will respond to attacking germs at a faster rate.2
So, a fever can be quite helpful in fighting off regular colds and flu. And while temperatures of 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit are uncomfortable, they do your body good. Most adults, though, will take an over-the-counter fever reducer for anything above 100 degrees to try and curb the misery that comes with being sick.
Using fever to fight illness
Hyperthermia is the word used to describe any body temperature that is above normal. Fever is one form of hyperthermia, like I just mentioned, as is heat stroke. But hyperthermia can also describe calculated heat treatment. This kind of treatment can cause changes within cells that make them more likely to be affected by your immune system or other medical treatments.
In the area of cancer, this might mean radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Extremely high temperatures can kill cancer cells outright, which is known as thermal ablation. But there’s a risk, as extremely high temperatures can also harm or kill normal cells and healthy tissues.3
This is why hyperthermia treatment for cancer isn’t as simple as locating a sauna and cranking up the heat. It’s a useful treatment, which I’ll detail further, but should only be done by trained specialists.
Whole-body approach to hyperthermia
There are three types of hyperthermia treatment for cancer: local, regional, or whole-body. The one that’s used depends entirely on the amount of cancerous tissue being treated.
The type of hyperthermia most used in alternative cancer treatment centers is whole-body hypothermia.
Whole-body hyperthermia has less to do with targeting a specific area of cancer and more to do with heating the whole body to activate the immune system. This can be done via heated blankets, immersion in warm mater, or heated chambers. This is sometimes called fever-range whole-body hyperthermia, at least when the target temperature is like a fever. Some practitioners will move the body temperature up to 107 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods, all with the intention of prompting certain immune cells to become more active.4
Whole-body hyperthermia is used against cancer of all stages with great success at treatment centers in Europe and Mexico.
For example, at Hope4Cancer in Mexico, patients receive daily whole-body hyperthermia in an insulated chamber with radio frequencies to generate heat and raise the body temperature up to 104 degrees for 45 minutes. The head area is kept outside the chamber.
Unfortunately, whole-body hyperthermia is not widely available in the United States.
Locally used hyperthermia
Local hyperthermia treatment is just like it sounds—localized. This treatment is often used to heat and treat something small, like a tumor. Think of it as effectively “cooking” the tumor and blood vessels surrounding it. This heating approach is done via radio waves, microwaves, ultrasound waves and other forms of energy. The heat may be administered via a thin needle or probe that gets poked directly into the tumor. Or, it could come from high energy waves aimed at the tumor but delivered near the surface of the body using a machine that remains outside of the body.5
The most common type is a thermal ablation approach called radiofrequency ablation, or RFA. Treatment involves using ultrasound, MRI, or CT scans to insert a thin, needle-like probe into a tumor for between ten and 30 minutes. The tip of the probe puts out high-energy radio waves with a very high heat level that destroys all cells within a certain proximity. The dead cells are typically not removed, but instead become scar tissue that, ideally, shrinks over time.6
Benefits of RFA are that it’s readily available in the United States to cancer patients who can’t handle surgery, or who have tumors that are inoperable. RFA can also be repeated multiple times if a tumor returns or shows signs of growth. Mostly, you’ll see RFA used to treat tumors up to two inches in diameter. More often, these types of treatable tumors are found in the liver, kidneys, and lungs.7
Regional hyperthermia is where a much larger area is heated. This could include a limb, hollow body cavity, or an organ. One regional hyperthermia approach that’s being studied is for treating sarcomas and melanomas. In this approach, blood is taken from the appropriate region of the body, heated through the use of a heat-pump device, and then pumped back into the body (note that first that blood supply is isolated from the rest of the circulation). The heated blood may even be combined with medicines like chemotherapy.8
Whole-body hyperthermia is quite promising as a cancer treatment, but despite decades of successful use in other countries, it’s still not accepted in the United States as a treatment for cancer. However, you can seek out the treatment at many well-known alternative cancer centers in Mexico and Europe. Other forms of hyperthermia are readily available at many cancer treatment centers around the country.