Heat Therapy

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. The medical field has approved three main methods of treatment for cancer since 1905: chemotherapyradiation and surgery. In the past few years, though, there has been an increasing interest in alternative methods in cancer treatment and this has led to some successful results. Heat therapy is one of those alternative methods and is being studied for use with radiation and/or chemotherapy, or other natural methods.

Scientific studies for this research began in the 1960s when it was thought that rodent cancer cells reacted to heat differently than normal cells. After many observations, though, it has been determined that cancer cells and normal cells do not react any differently, but research has continued because of the benefits found in treating infections and rashes with heat therapy.

The Procedure

Heat therapy is used by the medical profession along with chemotherapy or radiation. High temperatures are applied to the affected areas of the body with hot water, warming blankets, compresses, hot wax, or other methods. Heat therapy has also been tested internally by injecting substances like dinitrophenol (DNP) into the patient to induce fever and fever type reactions in a state called intracellular hyperthermia.

Types of Heat Therapy

Clinical studies are being used to discover the benefits and how heat therapy may work in cancer treatment. There are three types of heat therapy: local, regional and the whole body. With investigation, scientists have found that there has been success in certain types of local treatments, but these generally involve applying extreme heat to localized tumor areas in a procedure called radiofrequency ablation.  Temperatures used for most heat therapy are not usually hot enough to kill tumor cells on their own.  Whole body heat therapy is being researched for use in conjunction with chemotherapy on patients that have cancer that has metastasized, or spread to other areas. The use of warm blankets, electric blankets, hot water or incubation-type heating is being researched in these treatments.

Risks of Heat Therapy

There are risks involved and heat therapy should be used with caution in all situations. If using whole body heating, the human body can typically handle temperatures between 111°F to 113°F, but if the heating is uneven, it may cause burning and other harm. Excessive heat can cause internal bleeding and risks to those with heart disease, tuberculosis, seizure disorders, diabetes and anemia. Intracellular hyperthermia, or injections of DNP have resulted in deaths and it is banned from the FDA. Physicians do not recommend relying on heat therapy as a primary treatment or undertaking it without the supervision of a doctor.


American Cancer Society