Chemo bath or HIPEC takes a two-pronged approach to effectively fight some abdominal cancers: A surgical procedure to remove any visible areas of tumor and applying heated chemotherapy solution directly into the open abdominal cavity where it circulates to treat any cancer cells that were missed, explains Joel M. Baumgartner, MD, assistant professor of Surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology at Moores Cancer Center in San Diego. His center is one of a select number around the country that currently offers this specialized procedure.

Baumgartner says that the chemo bath technique is currently appropriate for appendix cancers that have spread to the abdominal cavity, as well as for some colon cancers and peritoneal mesothelioma, among other types of cancer.

Growing in Popularity

While the technique has been around for several decades, in recent years it's become more popular, in part because it seems to extend longevity for some patients whose cancer wouldn't have responded well to other, more traditional treatments, such as intravenous chemotherapy. The targeted nature of the chemo bath (delivering drugs only to the affected area) also helps patients to avoid the unpleasant side effects that often go with systemic chemo.

Research Findings Hopeful

Baumgartner points out that although the research on chemo bath continues, studies comparing patients whose cancers were treated using cytoreductive surgery (the surgery used to remove the tumors) alone with those patients who combined the surgery with the chemo bath have found that adding the second step significantly improved the outcomes for many participants.

Further, an article in the UCalgary Medicine Magazine (fall 2011) reports that chemo bath increased the five-year survival rate in appendix cancer patients by 50 to 75 percent, and for colon cancer by 30 percent.

An Invasive Procedure

While the benefits of chemo bath can make the procedure very appealing, Baumgartner points out that it's only appropriate for certain patients. Part of its limitation is that the entire procedure is very time-intensive and therefore, the patient may not be strong enough to withstand the stress. In fact, the combined procedure takes on average seven to eight hours, which includes the hot chemo bath portion that typically lasts for 90 minutes.

Following surgery, patients must usually remain in the hospital for about 10 days. Baumgartner says that the reason for the extended stay is because it typically takes time for bowel function to return. He adds that full recovery from the procedure can take six to eight weeks.

"We have many patients who go back to their normal lives and jobs after this surgery," Baumgartner reports, adding,  "We've even had some women who were able to become pregnant after undergoing the procedure."

Will It Work for You?

To learn more about chemo bath or to find out if you or a close family member may be a good candidate, you can call Moores Cancer Center at 858-657-7000 or ask your doctor for a referral to another qualified facility that performs this technique.

Joel M. Baumgartner, MD, reviewed this article.




Joel M. Baumgartner, MD, Moores Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego. Phone interview, 16 January 2014.

"Optimizing a Treatment." UCalgary Medicine Magazine, fall 2011.