Can fever kill cancer? Fever, a rise in body temperature to an abnormally, and sometimes dangerous, level is often an immune response to a bacterial infection as the body attempts to destroy the invader. Now, oncology researchers are wagering that heating the body will have the same effects on cancer. Instead of inducing fever, however, these researchers are using hyperthermia. Hyperthermia has similar results–a rise in body temperature–but differs from a fever in that with the latter the hypothalamus gland in the brain actually raises the body’s “set-point,” or thermostat. Hyperthermia on the other hand is an increase in body temperature that is caused by external factors, e.g., heatstroke or intense physical activity. Oncology researchers believe that by raising the temperature of areas where cancer has spread to between 104 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit, tumors may be destroyed. This is a very localized procedure. Inducing a fever of this level would result in serious consequences for the patient. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and fever above 107 degrees Fahrenheit is considered life-threatening.
While this seems exceptionally hot, it is actually lower than the temperature in many hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms. It appears to be hot enough to damage cancer cells without harming healthy tissue, however. Heating body tissues causes the blood vessels to dilate or open wider. This allows greater blood flow, cooling the tissues in order to protect healthy cells from damage. However, the blood vessels that feed cancer cannot dilate efficiently, and blood flow remains sluggish, even under heat. Cancer cells therefore are deprived of nutrients and suffer greater heat damage. This heat is delivered with special applicators placed in the area of the tumor. In cases of mesothelioma, the specific method is called intracavitary hyperthermic tumor ablation. High-energy radio waves, similar to microwaves, are used to literally “cook” the cancerous tissue with the use of a needle-like probe. The risks associated with hyperthermia treatments for mesothelioma include puncturing an organ, pneumothorax (air in the pleural lining), minor infection, bruising or bleeding. Currently, hyperthermia is used in conjunction with other, more traditional treatments including chemotherapy and radiation.