Background: Focal heat destruction has emerged as an effective treatment strategy in selected patients with malignant liver tumors. Radiofrequency ablation, interstitial laser thermotherapy, and microwave treatment are currently the most widely applied thermal ablative techniques. A major limitation of these therapies is incomplete tumor destruction and overall high recurrences. An understanding of the mechanisms of tissue injury induced by focal hyperthermia is essential to ensure more complete tumor destruction. Here, the currently available scientific literature concerning the underlying mechanisms involved in the destruction of liver tumors by focal hyperthermia is reviewed.
Methods: Medline was searched from 1960 to 2004 for literature regarding the use of focal hyperthermia for the treatment of liver tumors. All relevant literature was searched for further references.
Results: Experimental evidence suggests that focal hyperthermic injury occurs in two distinct phases. The first phase results in direct heat injury that is determined by the total thermal energy applied, tumor biology, and the tumor microenvironment. Tumors are more susceptible to heat injury than normal cells as the result of specific biological features, reduced heat dissipating ability, and lower interstitial pH. The second phase of hyperthermic injury is indirect tissue damage that produces a progression of tissue injury after the cessation of the initial heat stimulus. This progressive injury may involve a balance of several factors, including apoptosis, microvascular damage, ischemia-reperfusion injury, Kupffer cell activation, altered cytokine expression, and alterations in the immune response. Blood flow modulation and administration of thermosensitizing agents are two methods currently used to increase the extent of direct thermal injury. The processes involved in the progression of thermal injury and therapies that may potentially modulate them remain poorly understood.
Conclusion: Focal hyperthermia for the treatment of liver tumors involves complex mechanisms. Evidence suggests that focal hyperthermia produces both direct and indirect tissue injury by differing underlying processes. Methods to enhance the effects of treatment to achieve complete tumor destruction should focus on manipulating these processes.