Electrochemotherapy: A New Wave of Cancer Treatment
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Electrochemotherapy: A New Wave of Cancer Treatment

by J. A. Impellizeri DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), MRCVS
Jan 23, 2024

What is Electrochemotherapy?

Electrochemotherapy (ECT) is a safe, targeted, cancer treatment that uses a very low dose of chemotherapy combined with electric pulses to destroy the cancer.

When is Electrochemotherapy used?

ECT is an effective treatment against many tumors, including melanoma, mast cell, soft tissue sarcomas, perianal tumors, nasal tumors, and other types of tumors. It is useful for lesions that cannot be removed with surgery or have proven resistant to other therapies such as standard chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

How is Electrochemotherapy given?

While your pet is under a short general anesthesia, a low-dose chemotherapy drug is administered intravenously or directly into the tumor (less common). This dose of chemotherapy does not typically cause side-effects as would be seen administration of standard chemotherapy protocols. Following administration of the chemotherapy, the applicator (electrode), which consists of a number of very small needles on a round disc, is then inserted into the tumor or into the scar where the tumor could not be completely removed. A small electrical current is released throughout the immediate area.  This current will create pores in the cancer cells and allow the chemotherapy drug to enter, thus resulting in the death of the cancer cells.

What can be expected after Electrochemotherapy?

  • Following the procedure, the lesions may or may not be covered with a bandage. An e-collar may be needed to prevent your pet from licking or chewing for approximately 24 hours, but often, it is not needed.
  • Lesions may scab and look worse before seeing improvement over the next few weeks.  This is a normal and expected reaction.
  • The procedure is non-thermal (no heat) and is an outpatient procedure for most cases.  Your pet goes home the same day and typically no pain medication is needed.  Your pet returns to normal eating and drinking later that evening. 

Are there any possible side effects of Electrochemotherapy?

  • The treated area may be more sensitive and occasionally, a mild pain medication may be prescribed.
  • In rare circumstances, the treated area could become infected and require additional treatment, including antibiotics and wound management.
  • As with any drug, there is always a rare chance for an allergic reaction.

    What is the outcome after treatment?

    • Additional ECT treatments may be necessary, usually every 2-4 weeks. Retreatment of the same area is common without increasing the risk of any side effects.
    • The cancer may begin to reduce in size, sometimes completely and sometimes only a partial response.  In rare cases, the tumor may not respond at all. Responses vary depending upon the type of tumor being treated and the amount of disease present at the time of ECT treatment. 
    • ECT may be combined with other therapies such as surgery, immunotherapy (cancer vaccines), standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
    • Additional follow-up may be necessary to address control of metastasis or spread of the cancer to other organs. 

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