We have a team of highly experienced small animal oncology professionals all of whom have a wealth of experience in electrochemotherapy for pets. We are on hand to give our referring vets and their small animal cancer patients support throughout the electrochemotherapy process.

Small Animal Electrochemotherapy (ECT) Frequently Asked Questions

What is electrochemotherapy?

Electrochemotherapy is a cancer treatment modality that uses the delivery of electrical pulses to enhance the penetration of intravenous chemotherapy (we use a drug called bleomycin) into a tumour. A few minutes after the intravenous chemotherapy injection, short electrical pulses are delivered with a needle or plate probe on the tumour surface. These electrical pulses are generated by a machine called electroporator. A short hospitalization period is required afterwards to ensure that your pet has a good recovery from the treatment.

How does electrochemotherapy kill cancer cells?

The anticancer effects of electrochemotherapy are multiple and include: The generation of small pores in the cells (electroporation) by the electrical pulses allow the drug to enter and have greater anticancer effects compared to chemotherapy alone.

Electrochemotherapy also causes blood vessel collapse (vascular lock), disrupting the feeding blood vessels to the tumour. Blood supply has an important role in cancer cell growth and stopping that will induce death of cancer cells.

Stimulates the immune system to recognize and fight or eliminate cancer cells.

When is electrochemotherapy used?

Electrochemotherapy helps with the local control of superficial and localized tumours. It can help controlling tumours that have been incompletely excised, meaning that we treat the cancer cells left on the scar to reduce or avoid cancer recurrence. It can also be used on gross tumours as a palliative treatment when surgery is considered not possible or with the aim to reduce the size prior to excision.

Which tumours can be treated with electrochemotherapy?

Electrochemotherapy is mainly used for the local control of superficial cutaneous tumours. Most commonly, these include:

  • cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas
  • soft tissue sarcoma
  • mast cell tumour
  • perianal tumours
  • localized cutaneous lymphoma

Pets with tumours of the mouth can also often benefit – typically treatment of

  • oral melanomas
  • squamous cell carcinomas
  • acanthomatous ameloblastoma

How many treatments will my pet need?

The number of treatments may be variable and can range from 1 to 6 depending on the tumour type, size, location and grade (how aggressive the tumour behaves). A tailored plan needs to be made for each individual patient. If your pet has had surgery, the first treatment will need to be scheduled normally after 15 days, as the wound needs to be completely healed before applying electrochemotherapy on the scar.

Will my pet need to have an anaesthetic for electrochemotherapy treatments?

Dogs and cats need a short general anaesthetic or deep sedation (typically lasting less than 20 minutes) for the treatment 

What are the side effects from electrochemotherapy?

Electrochemotherapy is normally well tolerated but may cause some temporary swelling and redness on the treated site. If that happened, your pet may be prescribed some painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Occasionally, bleeding can occur, especially if the tumour is ulcerated but this is usually mild. With repeated treatments the skin may develop some scarring tissue, which may lead to a rigid appearance of the skin or leave a hair-less scar.
For tumours located close to the eyes (for example tumours of the eye lids), corneal ulcers can occur, but this normally resolves with eye drops. Similarly, with tumours located in the mouth, gingival swelling and inflammation can occur.
In breeds with pre-existing lung problems in particular, we will consider alternative treatments options and increased levels of monitoring will be part of the treatment plan.

Will my pet need any tests before treatment?

Baseline blood tests are required prior to each treatment. This assesses if your pet’s white blood cells and clotting cells are within normal limits before receiving chemotherapy, however reduction in these cell counts is uncommon with bleomycin. Assessment of the vital organs (liver and kidney function) may also be performed at the first visit.
In addition, prior to treatment, the majority of pets with malignant tumours will require a minimum staging (imaging investigations) to assess the extent of the cancer. Your pet will also need a definitive diagnosis of their cancer before starting treatment, which is normally performed with a needle sample or biopsy of the tumour.
If your pet has comorbidities that may influence the electrochemotherapy plan, further tests may be recommended by the oncologist.

What happens after my pet has received electrochemotherapy?

Your pet will need follow up visits to assess the tumour response (we will measure the tumour before and after treatment to assess how much has it reduced in size) and to ensure that any side effects are resolving or addressed with medication. Depending on the prognosis of your pet’s cancer a more or less frequent follow up may be recommended.

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