Putting the heat on cancer

June 1, 2008 8:39:05 AM PDT
Tere are many high-tech approaches to fighting cancer. But a Philadelphia cancer center is finding success with a rather low-tech principle - heat.

After 2 battles with breast cancer, life was just getting back to normal for Dianne Pomon of Pottstown, Montgomery County.

Then came crushing news - there was a new tumor, despite promises from her doctors that surgery had eradicated her cancer.

Pomon says, "It is devastating, because you're looking at it as 'this could be the end - this could be the beginning of the end.'"

This mother of 5 and director of a crisis pregnancy center knew she needed radiation.

But after doing a lot of research, this registered nurse decided she wanted to add something new - hyperthermia - heat treatments.

After looking for it overseas, Dianne found it was being offered at the Cancer Treatment Centers in Hunting Park.

Hyperthermia uses microwaves to heat tumor cells.

Dr. Curt Heese, of the Cancer Treatment Centers, says, "Twice a week, they get about a one-hour session where they lie down on the treatment bed, and then we actually locate where it is we want to treat, and the device is placed against that area."

The microwave raises the temperature of the tissue underneath to 108 to110 degrees. It makes malignant cells more vulnerable to radiation.

Dr. Heese says, "For a period of time, 48 to 72 hours, let's say, the blood supply in that area changes, such that there's more oxygen, and more ability for the radiation to affect those tumor cells."

Hyperthermia has FDA approval for use in cancers on or just under the skin, such as melanoma, head and neck tumors, and some breast cancers, like Dianne's.

On the downside, some patients get skin burns, pain, or ulcers.

Dianne, however, says it was the easiest treatment she's been through.

She recalls, "You just get warm - that's all. I sat there during the treatment and read a magazine, brought an iPod with some music, and slept."

Doctors say Dianne is now cancer-free.

Hyperthermia can be used for first-time...or recurring cancers. Doctors are still exploring all the uses for this treatment.