Bringing the Heat: Jefferson Uses Increased Temperature in Thermal Oncology Program

Mark Hurwitz, MD

Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health is at the forefront of searching for new ways to treat cancer. We sat down with Mark Hurwitz, MD, Director of the Thermal Oncology Program within the department of Radiation Oncology, to learn about hyperthermia, a method of using a moderate increase in temperature to enhance effects of radiation and chemotherapy on tumors.

How does hyperthermia work?

Hyperthermia interacts in many ways to enhance the effects of radiation and certain types of chemotherapy. Various types of energy including radiofrequency waves, microwaves or ultrasound can be used to apply heat to tumors.  This can be done non-invasively with superficial or deep regional heating or with interstitial radiation (brachytherapy).  Here at Jefferson, we have one of six machines in the country that can perform deep regional hyperthermia. Typically, this is used on recurrent pelvic tumors that are unlikely to respond to chemotherapy and radiation alone.

What is interstitial hyperthermia?

Interstitial hyperthermia is used when heat is put directly into the tissue invasively. A catheter with heating antennas in it is placed into the organ/tumor.

This type of treatment (hyperthermia) is most often used as a secondary form, or option, of treatment when first line treatment has failed. Hyperthermia takes tumor cells that may resist standard treatment and makes them more sensitive.

Why is hyperthermia so unique and useful? 

Hyperthermia is a scientifically grounded cancer therapy that enhances the anti-tumor effects of radiation and certain types of chemotherapy as demonstrated by many successful clinical trials. In skilled hands, incredible results can be achieved in some particularly challenging cases. We’ve seen patients with painful lesions such as recurrence of breast cancer along the chest wall or large pelvic tumors dramatically respond to hyperthermia and radiation.

Our team, led by myself and our lead hyperthermia physicist, Paul Stauffer, has unparalleled expertise in thermal therapy with over 50 years of combined experience in this area. We collaborate with distinguished members of the multidisciplinary Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson to find the most effective care for each patient.

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