LIFESAVER: The new hyperthermia device for cancer treatment at Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria, which heats tumours, making them more susceptible to radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Ocologists at a Pretoria East Hospital have begun using a new form of hyperthermia for cancer treatment.
Hyperthermia in oncology refers to the process of heating tumours to above the normal body temperature.
This is a first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, although the treatment is already being used in Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
International research has shown that in certain cancers, hyperthermia has the potential to almost double the chances of survival and recovery.
Hyperthermia has been used to improve treatment results in tumours found in the cervix, liver, colon and stomach, among other areas.
The hyperthermia device is not a replacement for conventional treatment and is used in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy.
Heating tumours increases blood supply and oxygen supply to the tumours, which in turn increases the tumours’ susceptibility to damage by radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Most of the techniques and devices used to heat tumours over the years have been associated with extremely high costs, invasive surgical procedures, high risks of adverse effects, damage to healthy tissues and the need for specialised facilities and staff.
The relatively new form of hyperthermia technology that is being used at the Wilgers Oncology centre eliminates most of these challenges. The devices use modulated electro-hyperthermia technology in order to safely and selectively heat tumours in the body without damaging the healthy tissue.
Treatments are an average of 60 minutes long and patients will receive two treatments a week during radiation therapy. Treatments may also be administered at the same time as chemotherapy.
The estimated cost of the treatment is between R1500 and R2000 and an average of 10 treatments are recommended.
Medical aids in the country are in the process of assessing the treatment in order to establish whether or not it will be covered.
Only patients with certain types of tumours, such as those that are visible on PET scans, and certain stages of disease, are eligible for hyperthermia.
Some cancers are very responsive to standard treatments and the addition of hyperthermia is therefore unnecessary.