Lifewatch: Using fever to fight cancer

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - This year 37,000 people will get pancreatic cancer and 34,000 will die from it.

There are few effective treatments, but now doctors are trying to heat things up and kill the deadly disease.

Joe Castelli loves to watch a good battle in the ring, but nothing could prepare this rodeo fan for his own fight with pancreatic cancer.

"I had pain on my side for months," said Joe. "Everything I read was all gloom and doom. What's my life expectancy? And she said probably a year."

Joe is one of the first in the United States to take part in a clinical trial that uses fever to kill pancreatic cancer.

"We are using a temperature that you would get if you had a bad case of the flu," said Oncologist Dr. Joan Bull.

Two days after Joe received chemo and immune-boosting drugs, he was put into total-body thermal therapy.

His temperature was carefully monitored as it was raised from 98º to 104º.

By waking up the immune system, doctors believe less chemo can be more effective.  The chemo and the infrared heat increase the body's immunity and help kill cancer cells everywhere.

Joe is in the treatment once a month over a six-month period.  The fever can be hard on a patients heart and lungs and cause sever fatigue.

Joe's gained ten pounds, has less pain, and renewed hope.

One of Dr. Bull's patients was given a year to live, but after this therapy lived for 3.5 years after the diagnosis.  Fever therapy is used successfully in Germany and is also used to treat small cell lung cancer.

For more information, please contact:
Office of Dr. James Swift
(713) 500-6820

BACKGROUND: 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.

Copyright © 2009 Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc.