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What Is Electrochemotherapy?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Electrochemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that typically combines the chemotherapy drug, bleomycin, with pulses of electricity to help kill cancerous cells without harming surrounding healthy tissue. Experts believe that the small jolts of electricity, when directed at the cancer cells, can weaken their outer membranes, allowing the drug to better penetrate and ultimately kill the cell. Electrochemotherapy is considered a very effective and minimally invasive way of removing cancerous tumors. It generally has fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy, because it typically uses much smaller doses of drugs. Electrochemotherapy is usually not as cosmetically damaging as traditional cancer treatments, as it distinguishes between cancerous and non-cancerous cells, and can usually leave healthy tissue in place.

This type of cancer therapy is often used to remove aggressive cancerous tumors. It can be a good option for patients whose cancer has spread, or patients who would not withstand the unpleasant side effects of traditional cancer treatments. Electrochemotherapy is generally considered better than surgery, because it normally eliminates the need to remove any of the healthy tissue that may surround a cancerous tumor. Bleomycin, the drug normally used to administer electrochemotherapy, has also been used in traditional chemotherapy treatments. It is generally effective and cheap.

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Pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are some of the cancers that electrochemotherapy can commonly treat. This procedure is often used on cancers of the neck and head, since it can remove tumors from these areas without the need for extensive reconstruction surgery afterward. Electrochemotherapy may also be a good choice for the treatment of liver cancer or basal cell carcinoma.

The small doses of bleomycin used in electrochemotherapy usually aren't enough to cause toxicity symptoms in the patient. As a result, patients are usually treated in a hospital or clinical setting and sent home afterwards. The typical treatment session lasts about 30 minutes.

Bleomycin previously had to be injected into the patient's body in large doses, which generally killed normal, non-cancerous cells as well as cancerous ones. This typically resulted in unpleasant side effects, long hospital stays, and less desirable treatment results. By using pulses of electricity to weaken the outer membranes of cancer cells, doctors can usually target bleomycin directly at the unhealthy cells. Electrochemotherapy is generally cheaper than traditional cancer therapies, because it often reduces the need for hospital stays, surgery and other additional cancer treatments.

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