Applying heat to regions of the body prior to treating those regions with radiotherapy may increase the effectiveness of that treatment, according to new research into fine-tuning radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
A Little Heat May Go a Long Way
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have discovered that it may be possible to increase how effective radiotherapy may be in treating malignant tumors by first applying heat to target areas. Referred to as inducing mild hyperthermia, the process seems to make it possible to treat tumors with smaller radiotherapy doses with the same therapeutic outcome of using much stronger ones.
Outlining their results in a paper published in The British Institute of Radiology, researchers experimented with mild hyperthermia in a laboratory environment, using mice as research subjects. Human cancer cells were surgically implanted in the prostate glands of the mice; electrodes were then placed on the skin to generate a radiofrequency field that heated the prostate to 41 degrees Celsius — about 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Tumors treated in this method required much less radiotherapy than those that were not.
The Possible Benefits
Radiation therapy is, by and large, relatively effective in treating prostate cancer. However, the risk of developing side effects from this treatment tend to be high; additionally, the type of side effects that radiotherapy can lead to are rather severe, as they include incontinence and erectile dysfunction in addition to fatigue and nausea.
However, if inducing mild hyperthermia in prostate tumors prior to treating them with radiation therapy means that those tumors need smaller doses of radiation for the therapy to be effective, this could potentially reduce the impact of these side effects. Modern methods of mild hyperthermia induction are advanced enough today to not require any sort of invasive procedures; using RF electrodes as done in the study, for instance, could be done with human patients as well.
So far the findings of this new study are still preliminary. It might be some time before inducing mild hyperthermia becomes a standard procedure before receiving radiotherapy. Yet anything that preserves the effectiveness of established treatments by reducing the risk of side effects is obviously good news. Based on these promising early results, it’s likely that using heat to pre-treat prostate tumors prior to radiation therapy isn’t so far away.