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The Straight Dope


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All right, Cecil, this will stump you. I've asked many people this, and none knows. If you can provide a verifiable answer, I will send $20 to a charity of your choice. The question: What was Mrs. Howell's (of Gilligan's Island fame) given name? Her maiden name was Wentworth. Sorry, "Lovey" doesn't count.

--Lomio, via AOL

I'll decide what counts around here. "Lovey" in fact was Mrs. Howell's given name--or at least it was the name by which she was known on the show. We learn this from Steve Cox, who cowrote Here on Gilligan's Isle (1993) with Russell Johnson, the guy who played the Professor. (The Professor's name, incidentally, was Dr. Roy Hinkley.) In the book Natalie Schafer's character is listed as "Lovey Wentworth Howell." Ms. Schafer also had a little dog named Lovey.

Steve Cox is the fellow who wrote The Munchkins of Oz (1996) and helped us get to the bottom of that silly legend about a Munchkin committing suicide on the set of The Wizard of Oz (May 9). If you really want to show your appreciation, take your $20 and buy his books.

If cancer cells are killed at 107 degrees, why don't MDs simply create a fever of 108 degrees in the body instead of pushing chemo and radiation therapy, which create further medical problems?

--KrisGammon, via AOL

You're not the first person to think of this. Hyperthermia, as it's called, is one of the oldest medical treatments in the book. Prior to the invention of antibiotics it was the standard therapy for syphilis and many other infections. One obvious drawback: a fever of 108 degrees would not only kill the cancer, it'd stand a good chance of killing the patient. That detail aside, the basic idea is sound. Lab experiments have shown that heating cancer cells to 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) kills them and in addition enhances the effectiveness of chemo and radiation.

The question is how to heat the cancer while sparing healthy tissue. In recent years cancer researchers have sought ways to focus the heat on the tumor, using techniques such as hot air, ultrasound, high-temperature water, microwave radiation, needles inserted in the body, etc. None has proved entirely satisfactory. Perhaps for that reason a 1991 review by U.S. health officials found no evidence that hyperthermia, either alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy, was a useful cancer treatment except in limited circumstances. Subsequent research has been more encouraging, and many believe hyperthermia will yet find its place in the anticancer toolbox.

Some doctors in Europe have used hyperthermia to treat AIDS. In the controversial technique called extracorporeal hyperthermia, the blood is pumped out of the patient's body, heated to 108 degrees or more, then put back in the body while still hot. A person with AIDS named Chuck DeMarco tried the technique in 1991 and claims it reversed his symptoms. He's since become a big promoter of the therapy. But his lover Michael Vernaglia, who also had AIDS, died in 1991 despite having twice received the same treatment. Extracorporeal hyperthermia has many side effects, some potentially fatal, and is banned in the U.S. One study found no difference in case outcome between AIDS patients who were given hyperthermia therapy and those who weren't. What's more, one person who got the treatment went into a coma and died a month later. The skeptics aren't surprised by the lack of results, pointing out that the blood carries only a small fraction of the AIDS virus in a patient's body. Hyperthermia advocates haven't conceded defeat, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.

Write Cecil at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611. To catch up on past columns, visit the Straight Dope Web site at or get Cecil's latest book, Return of the Straight Dope, available at bookstores everywhere.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Slug Signorino.

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