What is electrochemotherapy?

Electrochemotherapy is a new type of cancer treatment. It consists of combining chemotherapeutic agents with short, intense, local electrical pulses. The electrical fields that are applied activate pores in the membrane, destabilizing it and allowing the medication to enter the cell.

The positive aspect of this therapy is that it allows lower doses to be used, reducing the effects that appeared with the chemotherapy used up to now.

Electrochemotherapy is a new treatment for cancer.

Why is it performed?

It is used to treat cancer patients. In general it can be used in all types of tumors, but its main indication is in cutaneous or subcutaneous tumors. In 2006 the study was completed which established how electrochemotherapy should be applied in humans. Since then, its application has spread throughout the European Union and it is currently used in more than 100 hospitals in Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, France and Denmark, among other countries.

What does it consist of?

Firstly, an antineoplastic drug (bleomycin or cisplatin, normally) is administered to the patient in a low dose, which can be intravenous or intratumoral. After about 8 minutes, 8 pulses of 100 microseconds are administered, with 1,000 volts/centrometer. The pulses cause permeabilization of the cell membrane and allow the drug to enter the cell. Once inside the cell, it will do its work.

Permeabilization is something physical that works with any tumor with similar efficacy, about 80% of objective responses (objective response is considered when it achieves the total disappearance of the treated tumor, or if there is a decrease of more than 50% of the size it had).

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When bleomycin (an enzyme capable of cutting DNA chains) enters the cell it goes to the nucleus, where it can make these cuts in the DNA molecule. The use of this drug causes cell death in cells that are in the cell replication cycle. Normal cells that are not replicating, although they have cleaved DNA (with cuts in the strands), may be able to continue to perform their functions.

The effect of selecting has several advantages. First, there may be wide safety margins in the treated tumor. Secondly, tumor cells that are not at the time of replication will also have cleaved DNA, so if they enter the replication period, they will die.

Preparation for electrochemotherapy

The specialist in Medical Oncology will indicate to the patient the procedures to follow in each case, depending on the type of tumor and its evolution. Before administering this type of chemotherapy, the patient will undergo the pertinent tests, such as analysis, magnetic resonance to analyze the size and extension of the tumor, among others.

Care after the intervention

Electrochemotherapy is a safe and effective treatment. The dose of bleomycin used is usually very low, so there are almost no adverse effects. However, the administration of electrical pulses may cause muscle contractions in the patient, who may also experience swelling in the treated area. In such a case, it should be controlled with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Alternatives to this treatment

There are alternatives to this treatment, such as conventional chemotherapy therapies. However, they are not more advanced treatments, since electrochemotherapy came into use in 2006, after many previous studies. At the moment it is probably the most advanced technique for treating cancer.