Hyperthermia (also called thermal therapy or thermotherapy) is a type of cancer treatment in which body tissue is exposed to high temperatures (up to 113°F). Research has shown that high temperatures can damage and kill cancer cells, usually with minimal injury to normal tissues. By killing cancer cells and damaging proteins and structures within cells, hyperthermia may shrink tumors.

Hyperthermia is under study in clinical trials (research studies with people) and is not widely available.

How is hyperthermia used to treat cancer?

Hyperthermia is almost always used with other forms of cancer therapy, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Hyperthermia may make some cancer cells more sensitive to radiation or harm other cancer cells that radiation cannot damage. When hyperthermia and radiation therapy are combined, they are often given within an hour of each other. Hyperthermia can also enhance the effects of certain anticancer drugs.

Numerous clinical trials have studied hyperthermia in combination with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. These studies have focused on the treatment of many types of cancer, including sarcoma, melanoma, and cancers of the head and neck, brain, lung, esophagus, breast, bladder, rectum, liver, appendix, cervix, and peritoneal lining (mesothelioma). Many of these studies, but not all, have shown a significant reduction in tumor size when hyperthermia is combined with other treatments. However, not all of these studies have shown increased survival in patients receiving the combined treatments.