Irreversible Electroportation

What is irreversible electroportation?

Irreversible electroportation (also called IRE or NanoKnife®) is a minimally invasive treatment technique that uses pulses of electrical energy to damage abnormal cells, causing them to die off.  It can be used to treat tumors, including liver, lung, prostate, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.

Because it does not rely on heat or cold to kill abnormal cells, irreversible electroportation is different from other ablative therapies, such as radiofrequency ablation, microwave ablation, and cryoablation. The electrical pulses used in irreversible electroportation allow doctors to target affected cells very precisely, sparing the healthy tissue surrounding it.  Because irreversible electroportation is so finely targeted, it can be an effective treatment option for tumors that are located in close proximity to blood vessels or nerves.

How is irreversible electroportation performed?

CT imaging is used to “map” the tumor, creating a detailed picture of the area that will be treated. Then, a thin needle is inserted into the tumor.  Using CT imaging to guide the work, the interventional radiologist controls the release of electrical pulses through the needle and into the tumor.  Each pulse lasts less than a second.

The controlled bursts of energy damage cell walls, forcing the targeted cells to die off. Eventually, affected tissue falls away and is replaced by healthy cells. Irreversible electroportation can be used instead of or in addition to surgery.

What should I expect before, during, and after treatment?

Before you begin your irreversible electroportation treatment begins, your doctor will talk with you about anything that you may need to do to prepare for the procedure. For instance, your doctor may make changes to your medication schedule or ask you to fast.

While the treatment itself takes only a few minutes, surgical prep and recovery can take several hours. The treatment is performed under general anesthesia.  Irreversible electroportation typically requires a one-night hospital stay.

Your care team will give you individualized instruction about post-treatment procedures to follow.

What are the risks and benefits of irreversible electroportation?

Irreversible electroportation is generally very well-tolerated by patients, and most do not experience any significant side effects. Irreversible electroportation is typically performed using minimally-invasive techniques, through small, pin-hole sized incisions. When appropriate for a patient’s health needs, minimally-invasive techniques can promote faster recovery time and reduce risks of complications.

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