Duke Physicians Turn Up Heat on Tumors To Hasten Their Demise

Armen Hareyan's picture

Treating Cancer

Writings from the ancient Egyptians claim they used an instrument called a "fire drill" to cauterize cancers, but 3,000 years later doctors have not yet mastered the art of directing heat to the desired spot to kill cancers. Targeting a tumor deep within the body or a limb is like trying to bake a single cookie in an oven that remains cool to the touch, say researchers at Duke University Medical Center's Hyperthermia Program. Thus, practical barriers have stymied the widespread use of heat to shrink tumors: the tumor is hard to access, the target is hard to hit and physicians cannot easily measure its temperature.


Recently, the Duke program received a $19 million continuation grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study and apply the benefits of using heat, or hyperthermia, to treat patients with cancer. The grant is currently entering its 19th year of continuous funding and, according to program members, Duke has the only federally funded research program dedicated to making heat treatment a viable option for patients with a wide variety of cancers.

The new funds are helping the program's researchers refine modern-day tools to implement the ancient idea of "targeted fire" to kill cancers. They are using microwave antennae to beam heat at a precise spot in the body; leg cuffs that encircle the affected area and deliver targeted heat; and a miniature water Jacuzzi that transmits microwave heat selectively to cancerous breasts.

Such modern inventions