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What Is Magnetic Hyperthermia?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Cells in the body sometimes undergo certain genetic changes that can cause them to become cancerous. They can become malignant without warning and spread throughout the body. Various methods have been developed over the years to treat cancer, including chemotherapy and radiation, but many researchers continue to look for treatments without side effects. Magnetic hyperthermia is one experimental cancer treatment that typically works by heating tumor cells to kill them. Temperatures up to 109.4°F (about 43°C) are generally high enough to accomplish this.

Magnetic hyperthermia usually does not affect normal cells and organs that surround a tumor. A person is treated in a magnetic field that changes direction repeatedly, causing heat to build up which is directed toward a tumor. Magnetic particles can also be injected into a tumor, while a magnet applied externally triggers a reaction. They can be manufactured with surfaces that have a tendency to bind the particles to a tumor when a fluid reaches it.

Ferromagnetic substances, which react intensely to changes in magnetic fields, are often used in the procedure. A ferrofluid can be injected and, when the particles heat up, they generally warm up the tissue surrounding them. Many chemotherapy drugs often become more effective when heated. These chemical substances often target areas heated by magnetic hyperthermia and undergo changes that can make them more effective. Usually the drugs will affect the warmed up areas more than other parts of the body.

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The heat builds as the magnetic field reverses direction. Temperatures typically rise as the magnetic nanoparticles lose energy, which causes the release of heat in the process. These particles can be manufactured for such medical purposes, as have alternating magnetic-field generators. Often successful in experimental treatments for brain and prostate cancers, magnetic hyperthermia sometimes works on other parts of the body. Some researchers believe it can trigger the immune system to attack tumors elsewhere, because of proteins released from the heated tissue at the original site.

As of 2011, magnetic hyperthermia has often been used in Germany, yet researchers in many other parts of the world continue to treat this as an experimental process. The particles used are generally so small that they can go into any part of the body. It could be possible, therefore, to treat cancers that are difficult to successfully cure or manage with other therapies. Once the particles are used in the treatment, they are typically removed by the body’s immune system, and are generally not harmful to any tissues.

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