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Last Modified June 22, 2022
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What Is HIPEC Surgery?

Cytoreduction is the term for surgery that removes tumor mass. HIPEC surgery adds a heated abdominal chemotherapy wash during the procedure, treating any areas too small for surgery alone.

Cytoreduction and HIPEC surgery is a multimodal treatment plan that has significantly improved survival for peritoneal mesothelioma patients.

The average survival was around six months before this therapy became available. Now half of patients who qualify for HIPEC surgery live longer than five years.

A 2018 International Journal of Hyperthermia study looked at the outcomes for 76 peritoneal mesothelioma patients treated with HIPEC surgery. Median disease-free survival was almost five years, and median overall survival was more than eight years.

Doctors developed the HIPEC procedure to improve the relatively poor results of traditional chemotherapy treatment. Although many patients respond well to unheated chemotherapy drugs, the effects are often short-lived.

Surgical Consultation for HIPEC

The best way to learn more about the procedure and whether you qualify is to schedule a surgical consultation. During a consultation, you meet with the surgeon and members of the surgical team either virtually or in person. This gives you an opportunity to ask questions and address any concerns you may have with the team.

The surgical team will review all your medical records to determine if you qualify, and the surgeon will discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with you. You will learn more about the surgery, what preparation is required and how recovery will go.

Mesothelioma HIPEC Experience

Watch: Peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Tamron Little describes her experience during the HIPEC procedure.

How HIPEC Surgery Treats Mesothelioma

Although the specific approach to HIPEC surgery can vary depending on the doctor and treatment center, the general concept is always the same. The procedure has two phases: Cytoreductive surgery followed by heated chemotherapy.

Phase I: Surgery

First, doctors perform cytoreductive surgery to remove as much tumor growth as possible from the abdominal cavity.

HIPEC without surgery is ineffective because the chemo drugs cannot penetrate deep into cancerous tumors. In some cases, complete removal of the tumors is impossible and patients may need to explore other treatment options.

Phase II: Chemotherapy Bath

Mesothelioma doctors target any remaining cancer cells with heated chemotherapy immediately after surgery to extend survival and prevent cancer recurrence.

The usual chemotherapy drugs, including carboplatin, cisplatin, doxorubicin, gemcitabine and pemetrexed, have all been used for heated chemotherapy. Instead of injecting these drugs into your blood, doctors deliver them directly to the chest or abdomen.

How the HIPEC Machine Works

  • Doctors insert catheters into the abdominal cavity and connect them to the perfusion system, which heats the chemotherapy solution and pumps it to and from the body.
  • As the solution flows through the machine, a heating element raises it to between 105 and 109 F. Cancer cells start to die when heated to around 104 F, while normal cells can survive up to 111 F.
  • A doctor massages the abdomen by hand to ensure the solution is fully mixed. This step helps the drugs reach remaining cancer cells.
  • The chemotherapy drugs flow between the patient and perfusion system for about one hour.
  • When the chemotherapy bath is finished, doctors drain the medicated solution from the body.
  • The cavity is later rinsed with only a saline solution before the catheter is removed and incision is closed.

The entire procedure, including surgery and HIPEC, may take between six and 18 hours to complete because surgery times vary. The more the cancer has spread within the abdomen, the longer surgery will take.

Benefits of HIPEC

HIPEC surgery provides significant benefits to nearly all peritoneal mesothelioma patients eligible for the procedure. In a 2021 Oxford study of 40 patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, there were no deaths at the median duration follow-up at five years. The projected recurrence-free interval was more than 10 years.

  • Best survival rates of any peritoneal mesothelioma treatment.
  • Fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.
  • Safe delivery of higher drug doses than systemic chemotherapy.
  • Local application means chemotherapy affects more cancerous cells than normal cells, which prevents resistance.

Delivering heated chemotherapy throughout the abdomen prevents many side effects seen with systemic chemotherapy because the medication does not leave the abdominal cavity. The overall benefits of HIPEC translate to fewer complications and prolonged survival compared to patients who don’t have the procedure.


After HIPEC surgery, you should expect a recovery time of several months. Your treatment team will go over everything you need to know about the recovery process, including how to care for your incision wounds and encourage healing.

The most challenging aspect of recovery is fatigue. It will likely take two to three months until you begin to feel back to normal. Until then, it is important to stay active (within your limits) and maintain good nutrition.

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Side Effects of HIPEC Surgery

  • Bleeding
  • Wound infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Blood clots
  • Pneumonia
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Disruption of normal bowel motility (which reduces appetite)
  • Fistula (a connection between the skin and intestines)
  • Myelosuppression (bone marrow produces fewer platelets and blood cells)
  • Sepsis

Many HIPEC side effects correlate with common complications of other surgeries, including delayed wound healing, bleeding, sepsis and bowel obstruction. Eligibility requirements ensure you are a good candidate for HIPEC with a decreased risk for severe side effects.

Which Patients Are Eligible for HIPEC Treatment?

HIPEC is an aggressive treatment and involves a lengthy surgery. To be eligible for HIPEC, patients must be in relatively good health to withstand the surgery and recovery period. 

Contraindications of HIPEC can include severe chronic illnesses, heart disease and liver disease. A diagnosis with epithelial cell type improves the chances that HIPEC will be effective.

A 2021 research study by Dr. Paul Sugarbaker determined that age had the greatest impact on survival following a HIPEC procedure.

To qualify for HIPEC, patients must:

  • Be healthy enough for surgery
  • Not have heart disease or other serious chronic conditions
  • Not have more than one bowel obstruction or partial obstruction
  • Have a low peritoneal cancer index score (which estimates tumor growth and tumor spread)
  • Have an epithelial cell type (other cell types are carefully considered)

Doctors look for patients who are otherwise healthy except for their cancer diagnosis. They conduct assessments to determine a patient’s overall health, which they call performance status.

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Treatment Centers Offering the HIPEC Procedure

The main reason this procedure is not offered as a standard treatment option at all mesothelioma cancer centers is because of the complexity of cytoreductive surgery and lack of familiarity with the HIPEC procedure and equipment.

How Successful Is HIPEC Treatment for Mesothelioma?

Numerous studies show HIPEC surgery drastically improves life expectancy in about half of the peritoneal mesothelioma patients who undergo the procedure. In four major studies, the median survival rate for mesothelioma after HIPEC surgery was just over five years.

Recent studies show repeat HIPEC surgery can more than double the survival rate for those who qualify.

Peritoneal Malignancy Institute Study

In a 2021 U.K. study, 40 patients underwent cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC for multicystic peritoneal mesothelioma. The average predicted disease-free intervals for women and men was 11 years, with a 5-year progression-free survival of more than 80%. 

The study references a wide range of 7% to 60% for postoperative complications of HIPEC surgery. However, many of these reports originate from older studies involving aggressive and extensive peritoneal malignancy. The 10-year overall survival rate for patients in the Peritoneal Malignancy Institute study was nearly 100%.

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Study

In 2018, Dr. Paul Sugarbaker, who helped pioneer HIPEC surgery, published an update on the best treatment approaches for peritoneal mesothelioma. His report included survival results from a study he authored in 2017.

Sugarbaker’s study used cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC to treat peritoneal mesothelioma, with some patients also receiving one or two additional types of chemotherapy. Some patients received early postoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy, commonly called EPIC. Other patients received EPIC plus adjuvant normothermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, also called NIPEC, which is used long-term to prevent recurrence.

The five-year survival rates included:

  • 44% for patients treated with cytoreduction and HIPEC
  • 52% for patients who additionally received EPIC
  • 75% for patients who additionally received EPIC and NIPEC

Sugarbaker’s results indicate that long-term, nonheated intraperitoneal chemotherapy is an effective maintenance therapy that improves peritoneal mesothelioma survival.

Washington Cancer Institute Study

In 2015, researchers from the Washington Cancer Institute’s Program in Peritoneal Surface Malignancy published results from a study on the survival outcomes of using HIPEC surgery a second time to treat recurrence.

Survival after a second HIPEC surgery was 4.5 years compared to 6.4 years after the first HIPEC surgery. These results suggest the HIPEC procedure is an effective second-line therapy for recurrent peritoneal mesothelioma.

Multicenter Study

In 2009, one of the largest multicenter studies on HIPEC for peritoneal mesothelioma patients published its findings. Dr. Tristan Yan and colleagues confirmed the treatment can significantly extend survival for select patients.

After follow-up with more than 400 patients, the researchers reported an overall median survival of 53 months — nearly 4.5 years. One patient survived for more than 19 years after the procedure.

Survival rates of one, three and five years were 81 percent, 60 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

Success of Repeat HIPEC Treatment

For the right patients, HIPEC surgery can extend survival and provide a better quality of life. 

According to an April 2022 study published in Annals of Surgical Oncology, repeat HIPEC patients had an average survival of 67.7 months, more than double that of patients undergoing just a single surgery. Complication rates were similar between first and second surgeries.

A 2019 Journal of Surgical Oncology study found that repeat surgery patients had a median survival of 92 months and a five-year survival rate of 71.8%.

Patients with low cancer volume had a three- and five-year survival rate of 100%. The 10-year survival rate was 87%. Those with higher cancer volume had three- and five-year survival rates of 46% and 24%, respectively.

The medical community continues to research drug combinations and the best chemotherapy temperature and exposure time for mesothelioma patients. As this research advances, it is likely that survival outcomes will continue to improve.

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