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December 28, 1984

Cautiously optimistic researchers study hyperthermia's potential uses

JAMA. 1984;252(24):3341-3348. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350240001001

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The use of heat to treat disease, primarily neoplasms, is an idea medicine has alternately embraced and rejected from at least the time of ancient Greece. Today, it is as controversial as ever, and even the most optimistic researchers are cautiously so as studies continue.

"Those diseases that medicines do not cure, iron [surgery?] cures; those that surgery cannot cure, fire cures; those that heat cannot cure are to be reckoned wholly incurable." —Hippocrates (Aphorism 87)

Today's "fire" (as mentioned in the above aphorism) is largely in the hands of the radiation oncologists, physicists, engineers, and others who are seeking to make hyperthermia a useful medical tool, based on sound physical and clinical principles.

An accumulation of data, both in humans and animals, indicates that tumor cells are particularly sensitive to the destructive effects of temperatures of at least 41.5 °C (106.7 °F). Surrounding tissue appears to be less sensitive.