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Breast cancer treatment uses extreme heat

Some breast cancer treatment centers are offering a new therapy that involves using extreme heat.
April 18, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than 232,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. When treatments fail and the cancer comes back, patients are often left with few options. Now, some centers are offering a new therapy that involves using extreme heat.

Two years ago, doctors told Lisa Ridgeway she had triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive disease with no cure.

"There's not a lot of drugs that work or work for a long period of time," said Ridgeway.

The mom of two was facing a typical life expectancy of just three years.

"That's a mom's horror story, knowing that you aren't going to be here," said Ridgeway.

Ridgeway had surgery, radiation and chemo, but her cancer came back two more times. Now, she's trying something new. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are offering patients hyperthermia treatment.

"Hyperthermia is heat therapy. It's actually been around since the time of the Egyptians," said Jennifer Yu, a radiation oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.

A hot bag is placed on top of the skin. A microwave unit heats the bag and the tissue under it to about 110 degrees. The heat increases blood flow and makes tumors more sensitive to radiation. Yu says it improves cell kill.

In one study, 66 percent of cancer patients who had hyperthermia and radiation had their tumors shrink completely compared to just 42 percent who had only radiation.

Ridgeway hopes the treatment will give her more time.

"My choice is I want to live," she said.

Yu says there are about 10 centers around the country using hyperthermia for breast cancer, including the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial. Typically, treatments last one hour and are performed one to two times a week.