Cancer treatment that PUNCHES HOLES in tumours could be latest weapon in war against disease

  • New treatment uses millions of electric pulses per second to make holes in cancer cells and kill them
  • Therapy does not damage surrounding healthy tissue
  • Now experts want to carry out larger clinical trials

Rachel Reilly

10:57 EST, 15 April 2013


10:57 EST, 15 April 2013

A minimally invasive cancer treatment that punches microscopic holes in tumours – without harming surrounding healthy tissue – could be the latest weapon in the war against cancer.

Irreversible electroporation (IRE) uses millions of electrical pulses per second to kill cancer cells but spare nearby tissue.

‘IRE may be especially beneficial in treating liver, lung, pancreatic and other cancers that are close to blood vessels, nerves and other sensitive structures,’ said the researchers who conducted the study.

New hope: IRE uses electric pulses to kills tumours at a cellular level

New hope: IRE uses electric pulses to kills tumours at a cellular level

Treatment of cancers near
sensitive sites usually involves surgery and a technique known as
thermoablation, which heats and then freezes the tumour. 

But this can damage healthy tissue, posing a risk to nearby major blood vessels, nerves, ducts and other vital structures.

The study involved 25 patients who suffered with cancer that had spread to various parts of their body. The average size of the tumour was two centimeters.

IRE was used due to the location of
the lesions – all were near vulnerable sites that would be affected
by thermoablation. 

Dr Constantinos Sofocleous, an interventional radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, completed all 30
treatment sessions with no major complications, showing IRE to be safe
enough for further investigation in larger clinical trials.

Until now, the main method of removing tumours that had spread was by surgery and thermoablation

Until now, the main method of removing tumours that had spread was by surgery and thermoablation

He presented his findings at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans.

He said: ‘The treatment appears to be especially beneficial in people with cancer that has spread and who do not have good treatment options.’

IRE involves making an incision the size of a pencil tip and feeding a tiny instrument to target the tumours. 

Strong electric fields are then generated to create tiny holes in the cancer cell membranes.

This kills them by disrupting the balance of molecules inside and outside the cell.

Because IRE does not generate heat or cold, it stops surrounding cells becoming damaged.

This makes IRE ideal for treating tumors close to tissues that are vulnerable to damage.

By increasing the strength, and duration of the electric pulses, the pores in the cancer cells remain open permanently.

This causes microscopic damage to the cells, and they die.

The combination of minimally invasive surgery and IRE allows for faster recovery with less tissue injury, and it is hoped, a better long-term outcome than with traditional surgery. 

At a minimum, said Dr Sofocleous, the treatment offers the the patient an improved quality of life.


A study investigating the effects of cryoablation – the freezing of tumours – in the lungs was also presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s Annual Scientific Meeting.

‘Cryoablation has potential as a treatment for cancer that has spread to the lungs from other parts of the body and could prolong the lives of patients who are running out of options,’ said David Woodrum of  the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, who helped lead the study.

‘We may not be able to cure the cancer, but with cryoablation we can at least slow it down significantly and allow patients to enjoy greater quality of life longer,’ he added.

The study involved 22 people who suffered with a total of 36 tumours in their lungs.

After undergoing 27 cryoablation sessions, researchers found that the treatment was 100 per cent successful in killing the tumours after a three month follow-up treatment.

Afte six months, five of the 22 patients still showed no sign of tumour regrowth. 

The researchers plan to follow the same patients for another four and a half years.

Cryoablation is performed using a small needle-like probe guided through a nick in the skin to cancerous tumours inside the lung.

Once in position, the tip of the instrument is cooled with gas to as low as minus 100 degrees Celsius. 

The resulting halo of ice crystals can destroy cancer by interrupting its cellular function, protecting nearby healthy, delicate lung tissue. 

‘Most of these patients can go home the day after their treatment and resume their normal activities,’ said Woodrum.

‘While cryoablation is being developed for the treatment of lung cancer that has spread, the future looks brighter for individuals who once had nowhere else to turn.’

The comments below have not been moderated.

I get the impression that they appear not to find a cure for cancer, it appears a big money making industry.

royston amphlett

bournemouth, United Kingdom,
15/4/2013 19:25

Only for the rich and famous!


15/4/2013 19:19

Saw a picture of a cryoablation of a brain tumor in a book back in the early Seventies. This electrical treatment looks very good, however.


Panama City Beach, United States,
15/4/2013 18:57

It’s so sad really when the massive pharmaceutical companies still withhold the cancer cure from everyone due to there massive self greed.


Derbyshire, United Kingdom,
15/4/2013 18:38

But surely there would be a risk that this treatment breaks up the original tumour causing the risk of secondaries?


15/4/2013 18:38

This is why I love science.


land of hope,
15/4/2013 17:52

Sounds promising, here’s hopng it benefits millions.

Bob Scott

Sunny Surrey,
15/4/2013 17:35

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

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