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Hyperthermic Chemotherapy

What Is Hyperthermic Chemotherapy

Hyperthermic chemotherapy is a form of localized drug therapy that is used to treat a wide variety of cancers, including malignant mesothelioma. It is typically used in conjunction with cytoreductive surgery to eliminate non-visible cancer cells in and around the location where tumors and affected tissues were removed.

Hyperthermic chemotherapy has shown positive results in patients suffering from gastrointestinal cancers and even certain types of melanoma (skin cancer). However, it is most commonly used to fight peritoneal or pleural cancers such as mesothelioma. This technique is useful when combatting peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma because the solution can be pumped directly into the body close to where the tumors appear either through a chemotherapy “port” or before the surgical opening is closed.

During treatment, heated chemotherapy drugs are used as a wash or circulated through the blood vessels of suspect tissues. Following surgery, the mesothelioma patient remains connected to specialized equipment that bathes the abdominal cavity with this solution for two hours or longer.

How is Hyperthermic Chemotherapy for Mesothelioma Different than “Traditional” Chemotherapy?

Hyperthermic chemotherapy differs from traditional or systematic chemotherapy in three basic ways:

1) The solution of drugs is heated during hyperthermic chemotherapy. The increased temperature makes the solution more effective as the targeted organs and tissues are more receptive to this temperature-regulated solution.

2) It is a targeted form of chemotherapy. Whereas systematic chemotherapy involves pumping a drug solution throughout the bloodstream, hyperthermic chemotherapy involves getting the drug solution as close to the affected area as possible. This not only focuses the effectiveness of the drugs but also mitigates some side effects.

3) Hyperthermic chemotherapy often involves solutions which contain higher percentages of drugs – more potent mixes – which are more effective at killing malignant mesothelioma cells.

In addition, the individual drugs used in hyperthermic chemotherapy versus systematic chemotherapy may differ. There are no hard-set rules about which drugs to use and experienced mesothelioma doctors will create a patient-specific solution best suited for the individual.

What Are the Side Effects of Hyperthermic Chemotherapy?

The side effects of hyperthermic chemotherapy differ according to which drugs are used. However, they are generally similar to side effects associated with systematic chemotherapy and include:

  • Anemia
  • Appetite changes
  • Bleeding
  • Digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, vomiting)
  • Hair loss
  • Decreased resistance to infection
  • Sexual side effects
  • Swelling or fluid retention
  • Allergic reactions
  • Organ damage

Less Side Effects with Hyperthermic Chemotherapy

Many patients report fewer or less severe side effects using hyperthermic chemotherapy compared to traditional chemotherapy since it uses a targeted dose on a specific portion of the body.

When the hyperthermic chemotherapy is used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma the procedure is called hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). This means that the chemotherapy solution is delivered inside the peritoneum, the thin membrane that lines the interior of the abdomen. The "peritoneal-plasma barrier" prevents the majority of this chemotherapy solution from passing through the peritoneum, thereby limiting the rest of the body’s exposure.

Why Should Mesothelioma Patients Consider Hyperthermic Chemotherapy?

Hyperthermic chemotherapy has been used with great success in patients with peritoneal mesothelioma. Studies have shown that not only does this form of treatment extend the average patient’s lifespan, but also improves post-surgical quality of life when compared to systematic chemotherapy. In fact, one study by the Veneto Institute of Oncology and the Department of Oncological and Surgical Sciences at the University of Padova, Italy found that when combined with tumor reduction/removal surgery, hyperthermic chemotherapy could more than quadruple a mesothelioma patient’s expected lifespan. Forty-seven percent of patients in the study lived past the five-year benchmark compared to the average survival time of 12.5 months.

Hyperthermic chemotherapy has also been used in patients suffering from pleural mesothelioma. Though some success has been noted, fewer studies have been done examining this type of treatment on this group of mesothelioma patients.

Finding a Qualified Facility

Not every hospital is equipped to handle peritoneal or pleural hyperthermic chemotherapy. It is not a common procedure and some still consider it experimental because it is so comparatively new.

Check with your mesothelioma doctor to locate a qualified medical facility with a staff of surgical oncologists familiar with the procedure. The treatment section of our website also offers a section on hospitals that specialize in treating mesothelioma.