This year 37,000 people will get pancreatic cancer; 34,000 will die from it. There are few effective treatments, but now doctors are using heat to try and kill this deadly disease.
Joe Castelli is a pancreatic cancer patient fighting for his life.
"I had pain on my side for months."
He said after the diagnosis, his future was bleak.
"Everything I read was all gloom and doom. 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. The treatment involves heating the entire body up to as high as 108 degrees. He was willing to try it, making him one of the first in the U.S. to take part in a clinical trial at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, that uses fever to kill pancreatic cancer.
Oncologist Dr. Joan Bull is involved in the research.
"We are using a temperature that you would get if you had a bad case of the flu."
Two days after Joe receives chemo 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."
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.
Joe 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. Joe has gained ten pounds, has less pain, and renewed hope.
"I'm real optimistic that this is going to keep me alive for a long time."
One of Dr. Bull's patients was given a year to live, but after this therapy, lived for three-and-a-half years. Fever therapy has been used successfully in Germany, where it is also used to treat small cell lung cancer.