Heating soft-tissue tumors during the administration of chemotherapy reduces the likelihood that the cancer will come back, according to German researchers.
The study, conducted at the Kinikum Grosshadern Medical Center at the University of Munich, indicates that heat therapy can provide substantial benefits to cancer patients with soft-tissue sarcomas (tumors that originate in muscles, fat, nerves, tendons, blooded vessels, etc.). When compared to chemotherapy treatment alone, patients in the study who were treated with heat therapy were more than twice as likely to respond favorably to chemotherapy treatment.
Soft-tissue sarcomas account for approximately three percent of all cancer cases. They are historically treated through surgery, but radiation and chemotherapy are often employed to eliminate cancer cells missed during tumor removal. Unfortunately, chemotherapy has proven difficult in such cases, with relapses often occurring.
Improving chemotherapy through localized heat is seen as a major breakthrough in the treatment of such cancers.
For the study, patients underwent targeted heat therapy. Through a process called regional hyperthermia, electromagnetic energy was used to warm the tumor and surrounding tissue to a range of 104 to 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is believed that heat therapy improves cancer treatment in four unique ways:
- Heat increases blood flow, improving administration of chemotherapy drugs
- Increased blood flow increases oxygen flow, which improves the cancer’s sensitivity to radiation
- Heat short circuits the repair mechanisms of cancer cells, diminishing re-growth
- The heat itself directly kills cancer cells
Cumulatively, these mechanisms proved remarkably effective among the patients who received heat therapy in the German study. In comparison to the control group, heat-treated patients were 42 percent less likely to die or experience a re-growth in cancer at the original tumor site over a three-year period. Additionally, those who experience a recurrence did so much later – 32 months on average in comparison to 18 months for the control group.
Side effects of the heat treatment were generally mild, with 45 percent of patients reporting mild to moderate discomfort. Blisters manifested in 17.8 percent of patients and one patient reported serious burns.
The findings of the study are expected to spur additional research endeavors into the benefits of heat therapy. Previously, studies have shown promising results for heat therapy of breast cancer and some cases of cervical cancer. Other localized cancers, such as pancreatic cancer and rectal cancer, may also respond well to heat therapy.