Turning Up The
Heat On Cancer
New Treatment Harnesses Heat
N.C., April 19, 2006
remains the second-leading cause of death in the United States. Now, doctors are experimenting with a
promising, yet basic tool to fight it: heat. CBS News correspondent Elizabeth
Kaledin takes a look at how they’re trying to do it.
When Emma Jean Wilson found a lump in her breast, doctors told
her the prognosis was bleak. The
cancer was “very rare,” she says.
“About one in three million, and only one percent is in your
It was angio-sarcoma.
Rather than rely on chemotherapy and radiation alone, Wilson decided
to turn up the heat on her treatment – literally. She enrolled in a clinical trial at the
Duke University Medical Center, becoming one of thousands of volunteers
who, along with doctors, are hoping that something as simple as heat can
improve standard cancer treatment.
“They said, ‘what we’ll do is we’ll fix a table and your
breast will lay in a bath of water and we’ll sort of microwave your
breast’…and I said ‘what??’ Wilson laughs.
“That’s really what it is.”
Duke is one of a handful of research institutions pioneering a
new field called hyperthermia. While
scientists have known for centuries that heat has healing powers, Duke’s
Mark Dewhirst has figured out how to harness that heat and direct it right
“The temperatures that we are looking for are at the range
between 104 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit,” Dewhirst says. “At that range, we get the effects we
want but we don’t burn the tissue.”
deliver 30 times more drug to a tumor like this than you can with the
free drug itself.”
Mark Dewhirst, Duke University Medical Center
Wilson says the treatment can get uncomfortable by the end of
a session, but the benefits may well be worth the discomfort.
Dewhirst and his colleagues know that the heat weakens tumors
in two crucial ways: It damages
tumors’ cells and it makes the tumors more vulnerable to radiation and
“We can deliver 30 times more drug to a tumor like this than
you can with just the free drug itself,” he says.
The Duke team is turning up the heat on some of the
most stubborn cancers: breast, melanoma, cervical and ovarian. They’re designing and developing
intricate heating systems as they go.
In the next several months, they’ll be able to use new equipment to
heat up entire bodies in people whose cancer has spread.
Once this study is over, the next step is to get heat therapy
approved by the FDA and on the market.
That will probably take a few years.
But the goal, says Dewhirst, is to one day soon have heat actually
being “prescribed,” just like a drug.
“I would hope we can have dramatic ant-tumor effects,” he says
when asked if heat can be a cure.
“Whether or not we can cure them is hard to know.”
But for now, Wilson isn’t worried about a cure. She’s content to sit back and think warm
– really warm – thoughts.
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