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16 January 2013

Hyperthermia: turning the heat up on cancer

A Pretoria hospital is the first medical facility in Africa to offer a new form of hyperthermia for cancer treatment, which can increase patients' survival chances dramatically.

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A Pretoria hospital is the first medical facility in sub-Saharan Africa to offer a new form of hyperthermia for cancer treatment, which has been found to increase patients’ survival chances dramatically in certain types of cancer.

Hyperthermia in oncology, which is now offered at Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria, refers to the process of heating tumours to above the normal body temperature. Heating tumours increases the blood supply and oxygen supply to the tumours. This in turn increases the tumours' susceptibility to damage by radiation therapy and chemotherapy.



According to international research, hyperthermia can almost double the chances of survival and recovery in certain cancers. It has been used to improve treatment results in tumours found in the following: pancreas, brain, liver, bone, breast, cervix, stomach, oesophagus, prostate, lung, bladder, rectum, head and neck, and skin.

Though various forms of hyperthermia have been in use in Europe, Asia and the Middle-East for decades; the extremely high costs and potential risks involved, as well as the need for specialised facilities and staff, have inhibited its use in developing countries such as South Africa.

Fortunately, thanks to a new hyperthermia technology developed in Hungary by Prof Andras Szasz (head of the biophysics department at the University of St Istvan in Hungary), these obstacles have been overcome and thousands of South Africans can now also benefit from this cancer treatment.

How the treatment works

Patients receive a treatment on the machine directly before or after their radiation therapy and either before or during the administration of chemotherapy. The patient lies down on a special bed for a treatment and an applicator containing an electrode is placed over the area in which the tumour(s) are found. During the treatment the patient will experience a sensation of warmth at the site of the applicator. The treatment lasts approximately 60 minutes.

“The heating of tumours increases the efficacy of the chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” says Dr Carrie Minnaar Strauss, managing director of C-Therm Africa, the importer and distributor of hyperthermia devices for the use in oncology practices in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This makes tumours, which are notoriously difficult to treat, more responsive to the available treatments.

“We are particularly excited about this as it has the potential to increase the effectiveness of current treatments therefore lowering the financial and economic burden of cancer in our pubic healthcare facilities as well as being of benefit to the private healthcare industry.”

Free treatments

There are currently no costs involved in the treatments at the Wilgers Hospital’s oncology centre as the device is being used exclusively for research purposes.  Patients, however, will still be required to pay for their standard treatments.

South Africa's medical schemes are also in the process of assessing the technology in order to formulate reimbursement values for treatments. It is estimated that each treatment will cost between R1 500 and R2 000 and patients will require an average of eight treatments.

Contact The Wilgers Oncology Practice on 012 807 2744 to make an appointment with an oncologist in order to discuss eligibility for the hyperthermia treatments. 

(Source: information pack from C-Therm Africa)

- (Compiled by Birgit Ottermann, Health, January 2013)

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