Jean Nybo may not be getting a suntan, lying on this bed at a place called Gammawest, but the hyperthermia box above her is sizzling her cancer cells. "I'm feeling warm, very warm, but it's not uncomfortable,"says Jean. Microwave energy is focused on her skin where breast cancer cells have made a reappearance.
Unlike a normal cell, the core of a cancer cell is very sensitive to heat. "Cancer cells have gone through changes to make them cancerous. They've lost some of their previous abilities and they're more sensitive in a lot of ways," says Radiology Oncologist, Robert Harris.
Their mechanism to repair tissue doesn't work that well anymore and as cells, they tend to cycle faster than normal. So, when you hit them with heat at about 107 degrees - they become oxygenated again - ready for the kill by follow-up radiation. "The studies that were done show if you deliver radiation within four hours after delivering the hyperthermia, you have a prolonged effect of this oxygenation," says Radiology Oncologist, Robert Harris.
While doctors won't know for another four weeks how well this partnership has worked for Jean she believes the tumors are disappearing. "Yes, I have. I've noticed it in my arm right above the elbow. There was quite a bit of in cancer there, and it's starting to go away," says Jean.
Jean's treatment involves mostly heat to the surface of her skin - surface tumors - but Hyperthermia will go much deeper "Any tumorous type cancer that we can get needles into - that we can get an external beam into to raise the temperature, hyperthermia is effective," says Theron Schaefermeyer of BSD Medical Incorportated. In fact, right after Jean finished her Hyperthermia and headed down the hall for radiation treatment another patient was coming in to have Hyperthermia needles inserted directly into his prostate, preparing the kill for his prostate cancer.