Coley’s treatment / Fever treatment is a type of immunotherapy; which focuses on boosting the immune system, so it can attack cancer cells. This treatment was developed by a surgeon named William Coley and was inspired by the observation that patients who got infections after surgery did better than those who did not. Coley attributed this finding to the fact that the infection triggered the immune system to step in and provide additional support. For this treatment, dead bacteria is injected into the vein or directly into the tumor with the aim of creating a high temperature, thus stimulating the immune system which in turn kills cancer cells.
Dr William Coley and tumour regression: a place in history or in the future
Spontaneous tumour regression has followed bacterial, fungal, viral, and protozoal infections. This phenomenon inspired the development of numerous rudimentary cancer immunotherapies, with a history spanning thousands of years. Coley took advantage of this natural phenomenon, developing a killed bacterial vaccine for cancer in the late 1800s. He observed that inducing a fever was crucial for tumour regression. Unfortunately, at the present time little credence is given to the febrile response in fighting infections—no less cancer.
Rapidly growing tumours contain large numbers of leucocytes. These cells play a part in both defence and repair; however, reparative functions can also support tumour growth. Intratumoural infections may reactivate defensive functions, causing tumour regression.
Can it be a coincidence that this method of immunotherapy has been “rediscovered” repeatedly throughout the centuries? Clearly, Coley’s approach to cancer treatment has a place in the past, present, and future. It offers a rare opportunity for the development of a broadly applicable, relatively inexpensive, yet effective treatment for cancer. Even in cases beyond the reach of conventional therapy, there is hope.