SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 UTAH) – Over the past three nights, ABC 4 Utah has shown you why many experts say hyperthermia therapy is a proven, cancer-fighting treatment. We’ve traveled to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Germany, and china where oncologists say the technology built by Utah based company Pyrexar Medical works. Why isn’t hyperthermia therapy being used here in Utah?
“My first time when I heard this word hyperthermia was in 1982,” said Senior Consultant & Radiation Research Program Director Dr. Niloy Datta.
Senior consultant & Radiation Research Program Director Dr. Niloy Datta has been researching and administering hyperthmeria therapy ever since. We met him in New Orleans for an international conference on hyperthermia. He told us about one patient over the age of 75 who was unable to withstand chemotherapy for his sarcoma.
“Only protons and hyperthermia, no chemotherapy and if possible no surgery,” said Dr. Datta.
Other oncologists wanted to amputee his knee. Dr. Datta said no, and after hyperthermia therapy…
“The patient is walking in front of you, no crutches, he’s going for ski. What else do you want?” asked Dr. Datta.
ABC 4 Utah traveled back to the Wasatch Front to learn about the long history of hyperthermia research at the University of Utah. Hyperthermia therapy is not being used there now.
“30 years ago we had a federal grant to investigate hyperthermia between ourselves and the University of Utah before it became the Huntsman Cancer Institute. So we spent a lot of time and energy investigating hyperthermia,” said Intermountain Medical Center Clinical Director of the Cancer Program Dr. William Sause.
Those clinical trials proved hyperthermia did not have a positive effect when fighting cancer cells.
“So when you try to heat a tumor, our own body reacts and dissipates the heat so it’s a real technical challenge,” said Dr. Sause.
So the U and other medical institutions dropped their hyperthermia research programs.
“I think now with the interest in immunotherapy, the targeted treatments that we have, I think most people would say that that’s probably a more exciting avenue of research to explore,” said Huntsman Cancer Institute Executive Medical Director of the Cancer Hospital Dr. John Sweetenham. “Right now I think the evidence that it (hyperthermia therapy) works and its going to make an effect on a lot of tumors is lacking.
But Texas Oncology Partner Barry Wilcox disagrees.
“There’s plenty of data. If you look for the data it’s there. I think another concern is the equipment is not any good. That may have been the case in the 80s, but that’s not the case now,” said Texas Oncology Partner Barry Wilcox.
Take a look at the hyperthermia machines built by Utah based company Pyrexar Medical. Dr. Wilcox says the machines come with a hefty price tag.
“It has to be in a place that has enough volume. It can just be put at a small cancer center. It has to be a pretty high volume,” said Dr. Wilcox.
University of Maryland Radiation Oncologist Dr. Zeljko Vujaskovic says money could also be playing another role.
“The reimbursement for this treatment has not been satisfactorily so many hospitals or centers are reluctant to invest in equipment worrying about ability to have reimbursement for this type of treatment,” said University of Maryland Radiation Oncologist Dr. Zeljko Vujaskovic.
Dr. Datta argues, if reimbursement is the issue, then those physicians aren’t doing what’s best for their patients.
“Let’s come out of this orientation where we have the insurance companies dictate on us what we should do,” said Dr. Datta.
Dr. Vujaskovic adds, it doesn’t matter which of Pyrexar’s machines you use, it comes with a learning curve.
“It’s a time consuming, labor intensive treatment which requires some training and skills,” said Dr. Vujaskovic.
Both Huntsman and IHC say they may consider hyperthermia therapy in the future.
“We’re open to any promising treatments so absolutely. I think if we saw an increase in body of evidence that said this is something that is beneficial than we would absolutely bring it to our patients,” said Sweetenham.
“If hyperthermia works, we’ll probably adopt it,” said Sause.
Dr. Datta says any hyperthermia therapy naysayers should take a look.
“Just show the pictures,” said Dr. Datta.
Pictures and videos of patients he says he’s cured with hyperthermia therapy.