Pricking and Pulsing Tumors to Death

Cancer treatment advances may include electrical pulse therapy called irreversible electroporation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Cancer tumors are in the business of surviving and growing. And they’re pretty good at it. Their tenacity may be put to the test before too long with a novel therapy that pokes and pricks and pulses them into tumor heaven.

A new method of treating hard-to-reach and –treat tumors is causing scientists to take notice. “Irreversible electroporation” (IRE) uses electrical pulses to kill cancer at the cellular level, leaving healthy nearby tissue untouched.

This approach may be particularly effective for treating cancers that are close to sensitive tissues such as blood vessels and nerves.

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Researchers, led by Constantinos T. Sofocleous, MD, PhD, FSIR, interventional radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY, tested this technology in a small study involving only 25 individuals.

"IRE appears to be especially beneficial in people with cancer that has spread beyond the primary tumor who do not have good treatment options," Dr.  Sofocleous said in a statement.

"IRE uses strong electric fields to create tiny holes in the cell membrane, killing the cancer by disrupting the balance between the molecules inside and outside the cell—without resulting in other cell damage.”

For the study, a total of 40 tumors were treated with IRE. These tumors had spread to the liver from cancers that started in the lungs, pancreas, thyroid gland, prostate, uterus and uterine lining, ovaries and rectum.

The treatment demonstrated itself to be both safe and effective. IRE obliterated 21 of tumors, with only four adverse events reported. These adverse events included minor blood clots, tingling and numbness.

One of the advantages of this approach is that it is not invasive. According to the authors, this technique may be an alternative for patients who have no more traditional treatment options, or for patients too sick to have even minor surgery.

The authors concluded that more study of this technique is warranted.

This research was presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting. All research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Review Date: 
April 15, 2013
Last Updated:
December 13, 2013