It is a well established fact that cancer cells are vulnerable to heat1,2. On a cellular level it makes intuitive sense that cancer cells would be sensitive to heat. Normal cells are spatially arranged so that heat can be distributed evenly and they will not divide if they are physically in contact with adjacent cells. Cancer cells within a tumour will continue to divide regardless of the proximity of adjacent cells; this is one of the hallmarks of cancer. As a result of this uncontrolled growth, the cells in the tumour become densely packed together and this makes it very difficult for them to effectively distribute heat.
Hyperthermia treatment is rapidly becoming a mainstream therapy for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. During these treatments the patients’ core body temperature is artificially raised to mimic a strong fever. This is not a pleasant experience for the patient but it is very effective at weakening the cancer cells. It makes these cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation.
When any cell is exposed to heat there are immediate biochemical and genetic changes that occur so that the cell can adapt to the new warm environment. One of the most potent responses that allows these cells to survive the heat is the production of heat shock proteins (HSP)3. These HSPs protect components within the cell that are vulnerable to heat damage and during hyperthermia the production of these proteins within cancer cells is what allows them to survive. Currently there is a major push with pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that inhibit these proteins.
There are several different natural compounds which are well documented heat shock protein inhibitors. These substances are safe when used in the right clinical context and you need to consult a Naturopathic Doctor to know if this is the best therapy for that specific type of cancer. One example is Quercetin, a bioflavonoid that is well documented as a potent inhibitor of heat shock proteins in cancer cells4,5,6,7,8,9.
Cancer cells are naturally very vulnerable to heat based on how densely the cells are packed together. When hyperthermia is combined with Quercetin the results are very dramatic10. In one study on prostate carcinoma they concluded that, “When combined in a treatment protocol with hyperthermia, Quercetin drastically inhibited tumour growth and potently amplified the effects of hyperthermia on two prostate tumour types, PC-3 and DU-145 in vivo. These experiments, thus, suggest the use of Quercetin as a hyperthermia sensitizer in the treatment of prostate carcinoma.”
It is extremely important to point out two things. Firstly, Quercetin is safe with most but not all chemotherapy drugs and you need professional guidance from a Naturopathic Doctor who focuses in oncology to know if this is safe for you. Secondly, the quality of the Quercetin supplement makes a big difference. Generally speaking Quercetin is very poorly absorbed and there are only a few professional brands of sufficient quality that are effective at sensitizing the cancer cells. In some cases, intravenous Quercetin is more appropriate.
The mainstream medical community is changing its tune with regards to hyperthermia. In private hospitals in the United States it is very commonly used because it is so effective. In Canada, there are only a handful of clinics that currently offer this therapy. As the evidence for this therapy accumulates, in the near future hyperthermia combined with these natural approaches will undoubtedly become the standard of care for cancer patients.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) Molecular biology, First Nations Healer, Motivational Speaker and International Best Selling Author. He currently practices at his clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia where he focuses on integrative oncology.http://www.yaletownnaturopathic.com
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2. Van der Zee J and MC Erasmus. Hyperthermia in addition to radiotherapy. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol), 2007. 19(3 Suppl): S18.
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10. Asea, A., et al. “Effects of the flavonoid drug quercetin on the response of human prostate tumours to hyperthermia in vitro and in vivo.” International journal of hyperthermia 17.4 (2001): 347-356.