Mesothelioma patients have witnessed numerous scientific improvements over the past decade, but few are as popular or controversial as “Heated Chemotherapy”. The procedure (medically known as intraperitoneal hyperthermic chemotherapy or HiPEC), was developed by Washington D.C. mesothelioma surgeon, Dr. Paul Sugarbaker. The procedure begins with the removal of visible tumors from the affected area. Following the removal of cancerous tissue, the affected area is submerged in high-temperature chemotherapy medication for 90 minutes.
Heated chemotherapy has shown remarkable progress in a wide variety of cancer patients who would have been considered hopeless in years past. HiPEC still has its detractors who claim that the surgery may unnecessarily endanger the life of a patient. No matter the treatment there are always risks of complications; for many patients, HiPEC is worth the risks. Dr. Sugarbaker summed up his support of HiPEC versus traditional chemotherapy in 2011 New York Times article.
“There are no long-term survivors with systemic chemotherapy — zero.” – Dr. Paul Sugarbaker, M.D.
The premise of HiPEC is simple: Cancerous cells are unable to survive high temperatures. By using surgery to gain direct access to affected body areas, doctors can remove any visible tumors and then apply heated chemotherapy medications. These chemotherapy drugs are heated to an average of 107 degrees Fahrenheit and applied directly to the cancer location and its surrounding areas.
Patients have espoused the procedure called “The Sugarbaker Technique”, including Alexis Kidd. Ms. Kidd underwent the aggressive HiPEC treatment and spoke glowingly of her results.
The specialized chemotherapy paved the way for us to be as aggressive as possible with treatment so that we could get as much of it as we could.” – Alexis Kidd, 4-year mesothelioma survivor
In some cases, HiPEC has been nearly two times as effective as chemotherapy circulated through the bloodstream (known as systemic chemotherapy). The aptly nicknamed “Chemo Bath” is becoming more common as it has gained acceptance from the medical community. Stories of patients undergoing HiPEC range in age and location:
- Four years ago, UK Resident Dawn Green was diagnosed with an aggressive peritoneal cancer and given only 3 months to live. After choosing to undergo HiPEC, the surgery took 12 hours and removed cancerous tissue. The surgeons then submerged her abdominal cavity in heated chemotherapy. Green, now 35, credits her 4-year recovery to her decision to receive the heated chemotherapy treatment.
- In 2005, one of the earlier examples of use of HiPEC was on Fred Blum, battling intestinal cancer. His case was another situation of perceived hopelessness, until the opportunity to receive heated chemotherapy. His prognosis significantly improved after receiving treatment.
- Most recently, an 8-year-old girl with a severe stomach cancer underwent the HiPEC procedure. Her prognosis changed from a 10% chance of survival to 50%.
Even though there was some concern about the amount of damage HiPEC could do to a patient, it appears to have been accepted by many in the medical community. The procedure has successfully evolved into a late-stage treatment option.
“I have no doubt in my mind that I will live longer because of having this method as an option.” – Alexis Kidd
Whether called HiPEC, Heated Chemotherapy, Chemo Bath, Sugarbaker Technique or intraperitoneal hyperthermic chemotherapy, this treatment has taken on a new meaning for many patients: