Fever kills cancer

July 29, 2009 3:21:07 PM PDT
The stats are not promising: This year, 37,000 people will get pancreatic cancer, and 34,000 will die from it. There are few effective treatments, but now doctors are trying to heat things up -- and kill the deadly disease. Joe Castelli loves to watch a good battle in the ring, but nothing could prepare this rodeo fan for his own fight with pancreatic cancer.

"I had pain on my side for months," Castelli said.

His future was bleak.

"Everything I read was all gloom and doom," Castelli said. "'What's my life expectancy?' And she said, 'Probably a year.'"

That's when he found about a new therapy that could boost his chances.

"I knew this is what I wanted to do," Castelli said.

Castelli is one of the first in the United States to take part in a clinical trial that uses fever to kill pancreatic cancer.

"We are using a temperature that you would get if you had a bad case of the flu," said Dr. Joan Bull, an oncologist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

Two days after Castelli receives chemotherapy and immune-boosting drugs, he's put into total-body thermal therapy.

"I like to call it the hot box, and you're in there for eight hours," Castelli said.

His temperature is carefully monitored as it's raised from 98 degrees to 104 degrees.

"The fever is giving a startle, a cry for help to the immune system to say, arm yourself, get out here, do something," Dr. Bull said.

By waking up the immune system, doctors believe less chemo can be more effective. The chemo and the infrared heat increase the body's immunity and help kill cancer cells everywhere.

Castelli is in the treatment once a month over a six-month period. The fever can be hard on a patient's heart and lungs and cause severe fatigue.

Castelli has gained 10 pounds, and has less pain and renewed hope.

"I'm real optimistic that this is going to keep me alive for a long time," he said.

One of Dr. Bull's patients was given a year to live, but after this therapy, lived for three and a half years after the diagnosis. Fever therapy is used successfully in Germany and is also used to treat small cell lung cancer.


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