According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. 94% of pancreatic cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis – only 6% will survive more than five years.
As you may know, June 23rd is National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. In preparation, I contacted Dr. Curt Heese from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia and asked to tell us his experience treating this disease.
Q: Can hyperthermia play a role in the treatment of pancreatic cancer?
A: Certainly pancreatic cancer can be very difficult to treat, and having hyperthermia as a way to potentially improve, while not significantly increasing side effects, is a great advantage for patients.
Q: I know you are using hyperthermia at CTCA, what has been your experience?
A: We’ve been seeing some wonderful responses to the therapy, but one case does stand out. A patient with locally advanced pancreatic cancer was receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy in preparation for surgery, and deep tissue hyperthermia was being given immediately prior to each chemotherapy session in the hopes of helping achieve a stronger response, thereby increasing resectability.
Q: So your goal is a course of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before attempting to remove it surgically. And hyperthermia is added to help shrink the tumor and make the tumor more sensitive to the chemo. What was the result in this case?
A: At surgery, they found not just a reduction in tumor burden, but a complete pathologic response with no tumor left when the tissue was examined under microscope. Although we expect size reduction from chemotherapy, chemotherapy alone would not be expected to achieve a complete response. We were thrilled for the patient and it really cemented our belief that hyperthermia can enhance treatment in many types of cancer.
I want to thank Dr. Heese for his comments. I dug into the archives and found an older video clip of Dr. Heese explaining the hyperthermia treatment process. Worth a quick view.