Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, also known as HIPEC, is a high-dose cancer treatment used to destroy microscopic cancer cells. HIPEC gets its name from “hyperthermic,” which means warm, and “intraperitoneal,” which refers to inside the abdominal cavity. Research shows that heated chemotherapy can improve the blood flow in the abdomen, which better delivers the medicine to cancer cells. This treatment is typically offered to patients whose cancer has spread through the abdominal cavity, often in conjunction with other treatments. HIPEC is performed in combination with surgery that removes as much tumor as possible from the abdomen.
One of the less toxic forms of chemotherapy (also called chemo), HIPEC treatment is delivered directly into the abdomen rather than the bloodstream. Before the chemo enters your abdomen, the abdomen is warmed to between 106 and 109 degrees. Since cancer cells are affected by heat, this type of treatment can increase the chemotherapy’s effectiveness.
At the WVU Cancer Institute, we know every patient is different. That’s why we strive to give our patients the treatment that works best for their cancer.
Treating Cancer Using Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy
The first HIPEC treatment in West Virginia took place at the WVU Cancer Institute. Our doctors and medical teams feel comfortable and confident in treating our patients with HIPEC. This treatment works best on certain types of advanced cancer, including:
- Gastrointestinal cancer, a cancer that affects the digestive tract. Tumors are most commonly found in the colon and appendix.
- Sarcomas, cancers that have spread to the lining of the abdomen.
- Mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen.
- Ovarian cancer starts in the ovaries, and can then move to the abdomen.
HIPEC can also be offered as supportive therapy for patients who have a malignant ascites, an abnormal build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity that is a common side effect of abdominal cancers.
How the HIPEC Procedure Works
We know that a cancer diagnosis is never easy, and treatments can be scary. We will walk through this journey with you and make sure that you understand your options and feel confident in what to expect. You are at the center of our care, and we’re passionate about making sure you feel as safe and comfortable as possible. We do this by providing accurate and helpful information to those in our care about the treatments they will receive.
HIPEC is major surgery and can last between eight to 12 hours. While you’re under general anesthesia, your surgeon will:
- Remove any visible tumors.
- Fill your abdomen with heated liquid chemotherapy drugs.
- Rock your body back and forth to make sure the drugs fill your abdomen completely.
- Put you on a special cooling blanket to keep your body temperature down.
- Drain the medicine from your abdomen after a certain period of time.
- Stich together your surgical incision and take you to the intensive care unit to recover.
Depending on your type of cancer and its stage, your surgical oncologist will determine which medicine is the most appropriate to treat your cancer and how long treatment should last.
Benefits of HIPEC Treatment
At the WVU Cancer Institute, our mission is to eliminate cancer and improve survival. Often, advanced cancers, such as ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, respond to HIPEC treatment. Your cancer team will talk with you about the benefits and risks of HIPEC treatment. Some benefits include:
- Less chemotherapy exposure to the whole body since HIPEC treatment is one dose given directly into the abdomen
- A reduced risk of experiencing typical side effects like hair loss and mouth sores
- An increase in the survival rate for patients who may have no other treatment options
Side Effects of HIPEC Treatment
At the WVU Cancer Institute, we understand that treatment can often take a toll on your physical and mental health. As you recover from HIPEC treatment, your care team will closely monitor your white blood cells and platelets and make sure you stay infection free.
The side effects of HIPEC are different than standard chemo. This is because of the combination of surgery and the high-dose medicine. You may feel very tired as you recover. Other side effects can include bleeding, pneumonia, infection, bowel obstruction, low platelets, and blood cells.
Since HIPEC is considered major surgery, we will monitor your recovery closely. After treatment, most patients are taken to the ICU for close monitoring. Your doctors will monitor your blood pressure, urine output, electrolytes, and blood glucose levels. You may receive different medications such as antibiotics, painkillers, and insulin if your blood sugar level gets too high.
We may recommend starting with IV nutrition for food, but the goal is to get you back to eating as quickly as possible. The average hospital stay after this surgery is one to two weeks but can be longer in some patients. During your recovery time, we’re dedicated to making sure you feel taken care of, listened to, and comfortable.