Electrochemotherapy of Tumours



Electrochemotherapy is a combined use of certain chemotherapeutic drugs such as cisplatin and bleomycin and electric pulses applied to the treated tumour nodule. We present the clinical protocol of electrochemotherapy for treatmen of subcutaneous and cutaneous metastases of melanoma.

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Sersa, G., Miklavcic, D. Electrochemotherapy of Tumours. J. Vis. Exp. (22), e1038, doi:10.3791/1038 (2008).


Electrochemotherapy is a combined use of certain chemotherapeutic drugs and electric pulses applied to the treated tumour nodule. Local application of electric pulses to the tumour increases drug delivery into cells, specifically at the site of electric pulse application. Drug uptake by delivery of electric pulses is increased for only those chemotherapeutic drugs whose transport through the plasma membrane is impeded. Among many drugs that have been tested so far, bleomycin and cisplatin found their way from preclinical testing to clinical use. Clinical data collected within a number of clinical studies indicate that approximately 80% of the treated cutaneous and subcutaneous tumour nodules of different malignancies are in an objective response, from these, approximately 70% in complete response after a single application of electrochemotherapy. Usually only one treatment is needed, however, electrochemotherapy can be repeated several times every few weeks with equal effectiveness each time. The treatment results in an effective eradication of the treated nodules, with a good cosmetic effect without tissue scarring.


The treatment procedure for electrochemotherapy consists of local or systemic drug injection followed by delivery of electric pulses applied to the tumour 1. Detailed information about the treatment is published in Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) 2.

Treatment indications:

  1. Tumour type: basal cell carcinoma, and cutaneous metastases of malignant melanoma, breast carcinoma, hypernephroma, Kaposi's sarcoma and others.
  2. Tumour location: accessible cutaneous and subcutaneous tumour nodules on all parts of the body.
  3. Tumour size can be from 3 mm to 3-5 cm in diameter.
  4. Number of nodules; from 1 to up to 100.

Treatment procedure:

  1. Local or general anaesthesia, depending on the number of the treated nodules and the location.
  2. Drug choice: cisplatin or bleomycin. Cisplatin and bleomycin can be injected intratumorally, bleomycin also intravenously in a dose of 15000 IU/m2. Injected dose for intratumoural application of bleomycin is 250-1000 IU/cm3 of tumour tissue and for cisplatin 0.5 -1 mg/cm3 of tumour tissue
  3. Time interval between the drug administration and application of electric pulses; after intratumoral injection of the drug immediately, after intravenous administration after 8 min. up to 28 min.
  4. Electric pulse generator for electrochemotherapy should provide square wave electric pulses of amplitude 1000 V or more, repetition frequency from 1 Hz to 5 kHz.
  5. Electric pulse parameters: 8 pulses of e.g. 1000 V at 8 mm distance between two plate electrodes, frequency 1 Hz or 5 kHz, duration of the pulse 100 µs.
  6. If the whole tumour can not be encompassed between the electrodes, application of electric pulses should be repeated that many times so as to cover the whole tumour area, including safety margins.
  7. Electrode type: plate electrodes are used for small, superficial tumour nodules, needle electrodes are for treatment of deeper seeded nodules under the skin.

Other features of the treatment:

  1. Usually single treatment is effective for tumour nodule eradication; however electrochemotherapy can be repeated in 4 weeks intervals on the remaining tumour tissue or other tumour nodules.

Due to lack of systemic toxicity - because very low doses of bleomycin or cisplatin are needed - patients can be treated on an out-patient basis, and can leave the hospital soon after the treatment.


Increase in cytotoxicity of bleomycin by exposure of cells to electroporative electric pulses was first described by Okino M and Mir LM 3,4. Thereafter electrochemotherapy was demonstrated to be effective also for cisplatin 5. Extensive preclinical data were collected on in vitro and in vivo tumour models in the following years. Treatment effectiveness was determined in relation to drug dosage, route of its administration, timing of drug injection and application of electric pulses, intensity of the electric field, coverage with sufficiently high electric field (E), and appropriate selection of electrodes and positioning with respect to the tumour 1,6,7,8. Furthermore, mechanisms underlying the effectiveness of electrochemotherapy were elaborated, demonstrating that, besides direct effect of electrochemotherapy to tumour cells, vascular disrupting effect and immune response are involved 1,6,9. All of these collected data enabled translation of electrochemotherapy into the clinics.

The first clinical trials demonstrated effectiveness of electrochemotherapy on head and neck and melanoma tumour nodules 10. Later on, its effectiveness was demonstrated on other tumour types, such as basal cell carcinoma of the skin, cutaneous metastases of melanoma, mammary tumours, hypernephroma and Kaposi's sarcoma. There are several reports evaluating collectively all clinical data published on electrochemotherapy with bleomycin and cisplatin 11-15. Overall, the response rate of the treated tumours was approximately 80% objective responses and approximately 70% complete responses 15,16. The effectiveness can be even higher by repetitive treatment 17.

All of these clinical data have enabled electrochemotherapy to be adopted in some European countries as standard treatment, with palliative intent, on various tumours. The future of this treatment is to introduce electrochemotherapy in treatment of internal tumours and metastases, and in combined treatment, either with gene therapy or radiation therapy. These attempts are already under way.


The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the state budget of the Slovenian Research Agency and the European Commission's ESOPE project (QLK-2002-02003), funded under the 5th Framework Programme. The authors acknowledge the contribution of prof. Marko Snoj, prof. Maja Cemazar, Matej Merkac and Rado Likon in preparation of this Video-article.


Name Type Company Catalog Number Comments
Bleomycin (Blenamax) Reagent Teva Pharmachemie chemotherapeutic drug used in electrochemotherapy
Cliniporator Other IGEA Generator of electric pulses



  1. Mir, L. M. Bases and rationale of the electrochemotherapy. EJC Suppl. 4, 38-44 (2006).
  2. Mir, L. M., Gehl, J., Sersa, G., Collins, C. G., Garbay, J. R., Billard, V., Geertsen, P., Rudolf, Z., O'Sullivan, G. C., Marty, M. Standard operating procedures of the electrochemotherapy: instructions for the use of bleomycin or cisplatin administered either systemically or locally and electric pulses delivered by the CliniporatorTM by means of invasive or non-invasive electrodes. EJC Suppl. 4, 14-25 (2006).
  3. Okino, M., Mohri, H. Effects of high-voltage electrical impulse and an anticancer drug on in vivo growing tumors. Jpn. J. Cancer Res. 78, 1319-1321 (1987).
  4. Mir, L. M., Banoun, H., Paoletti, C. Introduction of definite amounts of nonpermeant molecules into living cells after electropermeabilization: direct access to the cytosol. Exp. Cell Res. 175, 15-25 (1988).
  5. Sersa, G., Cemazar, M., Miklavcic, D. Antitumor effectiveness of electrochemotherapy with cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II) in mice. Cancer Res. 55, 3450-3455 (1995).
  6. Sersa, G., Cemazar, M., Miklavcic, D., Rudolf, Z. Electrochemotherapy of tumours. Radiol. Oncol. 40, 163-174 (2006).
  7. Miklavcic, D., Beravs, K., Semrov, D., Cemazar, M., Demsar, F., Sersa, G. The importance of electric field distribution for effective in vivo electroporation of tissues. Biophys. J. 74, 2152-2158 (1998).
  8. Miklavcic, D., Corovic, S., Pucihar, G., Pavselj, N. Importance of tumour coverage by sufficiently high local electric field for effective electrochemotherapy. EJC Suppl. 4, 45-51 (2006).
  9. Sersa, G., Jarm, T., Kotnik, T., Coer, A., Podkrajsek, M., Sentjurc, M., Miklavcic, D., Kadivec, M., Kranjc, S., Secerov, A., Cemazar, M. Vascular disrupting action of electroporation and electrochemotherapy with bleomycin in murine sarcoma. Brit. J. Cancer. 98, 388-398 (2008).
  10. Mir, L. M., Belehradek, M., Domenge, C., Orlowski, S., Poddevin, B., Belehradek, J. Jr, Schwaab, G., Luboinski, B., Paoletti, C. Electrochemotherapy, a new antitumor treatment: first clinical trial. C. R. Acad. Sci. III. 313, (1991).
  11. Mir, L. M., Glass, L. F., Sersa, G., Teissie, J., Domenge, C., Miklavcic, D., Jaroszeski, M. J., Orlowski, S., Reintgen, D. S., Rudolf, Z., Belehradek, M., Gilbert, R., Rols, M. P., Belehradek, J. Jr, Bachaud, J. M., DeConti, R., Stabuc, B., Cemazar, M., Coninx, P., Heller, R. Effective treatment of cutaneous and subcutaneous malignant tumours by electrochemotherapy. Brit. J. Cancer. 77, 2336-2342 (1998).
  12. Gothelf, A., Mir, L. M., Gehl, J. Electrochemotherapy: results of cancer treatment using enhanced delivery of bleomycin by electroporation. Cancer Treat. Rev. 29, 371-387 (2003).
  13. Byrne, C. M., Thompson, J. F., Johnston, H., Hersey, P., Quinn, M. J., Hughes, M., McCarthy, W. H. Treatment of metastatic melanoma using electroporation therapy with bleomycin (electrochemotherapy). Melanoma Res. 15, 45-51 (2005).
  14. Sersa, G. The state-of-the-art of electrochemotherapy before the ESOPE study: advantages and clinical uses. EJC Suppl. 4, 52-59 (2006).
  15. Sersa, G., Miklavcic, D., Cemazar, M., Rudolf, Z., Pucihar, G., Snoj, M. Electrochemotherapy in treatment of tumours. EJSO. 34, 232-240 (2008).
  16. Marty, M., Sersa, G., Garbay, J. R., Gehl, J., Collins, C. G., Snoj, M., Billard, V., Geertsen, P. F., Larkin, J. O., Miklavcic, D., Pavlovic, I., Paulin-Kosir, S. M., Cemazar, M., Morsli, N., Soden, D. M., Rudolf, Z., Robert, C., O'Sullivan, G. C., Mir, L. M. Electrochemotherapy - an easy, highly effective and safe treatment of cutaneous and subcutaneous metastases: results of ESOPE (European Standard Operating Procedures of Electrochemotherapy) study. EJC Suppl. 4, 3-13 (2006).
  17. Quaglino, P., Mortera, C., Osella-Abate, S., Barberis, M., Illengo, M., Rissone, M., Savoia, P., Bernengo, M. G. Electrochemotherapy with intravenous bleomycin in the local treatment of skin melanoma metastases. Ann. Surg. Oncol. 15, 2215-2222 (2008).



  1. I wonder if this is an experimental study (i.e. a study to test a scientific hypothesis) or a study on a clinical treatment. Reading the cited literature it comes out that the utilized technique was already studied from the experimental point of view and the possible mechanisms underlying the observed effects were discussed.   Aram Megighian, MD, PhD Neurobiology and Neurophysiology Lab
    Department of Human Anatomy and Physiology
    University of Padova
    Via Marzolo 3, 35131 Padova - ITALY

    Posted by: Anonymous
    December 17, 2008 - 4:24 AM
  2. Nice to see some applied research being published too.

    Posted by: Matevž L.
    March 19, 2009 - 4:05 AM
  3. i want to download this video, how can i do that???
    i really like it.

    Posted by: lubna l.
    December 8, 2009 - 2:46 AM
  4. Please contact us at support@jove.com if you would like a download link.

    Posted by: Anonymous
    December 8, 2009 - 10:05 AM
  5. Can this type of treatment be used on brain tumours?

    Posted by: Anonymous
    October 27, 2011 - 10:13 AM
  6. Yes, it can be used for treatment of brain tumors. Specific electrodes have been developed and tested on rats. I believe that in Dennmark prof. J Gehl is preparing a clinical trial to test the treatment in patients.

    Posted by: Anonymous
    November 2, 2011 - 5:31 AM
  7. Thank you for your reply.... Do you know if Prof J Gehl has documented any reports on this? Also, is he contactable?

    Posted by: Anonymous
    January 4, 2012 - 11:42 AM
  8. I am not aware of any report on clinical trial.
    Though, it should be on clinicaltrials.gov

    Posted by: Anonymous
    January 5, 2012 - 3:42 AM
  9. Can this be used for stage iv cancer and if there is a fungating cancer wound present (located on left side of groin)

    Posted by: Autumn S.
    August 30, 2013 - 7:39 PM
  10. So far I am not aware of any report in melanoma. However, there is a report on breast cancer chest wall recurrence from Ireland (Wheelan MC et al. Effective treatment of extensive recurrent breast cancer which was refractory to multimodal therapy by multiple applications of electrochemotherapy EJC Supplements 2006; 4: 32-34). In principle it can be effectively applied, but multiple electrochemotherapy sessions would be needed.

    Posted by: Anonymous
    September 2, 2013 - 6:43 AM
  11. Thank you for your reply...
    Actually the diagnosis was peinel cancer and the fungating cancer wound is (approx. 3" in length 1" width and depth is unknown) in the left inguinal lymph nodes (where the cancer has spread). His last scan also showed a small bit of what they believe is cancer in the right lung. Would you believe that the electrochemotherapy would benefit him?

    Posted by: Autumn S.
    September 2, 2013 - 5:02 PM
  12. My father died from bleomycin lng after 2 ECT sessions for non-metatastic melanoma on his chest wall. The hospital said he had had a "sub-toxic" dose, and when he presented with breathing problems, they suspected pneumonia and treated him with anti-biotics and oxygen therapy. He died 2 weeks later from bleomycin induced pulmonary fibrosis. Has this happened to any other patients? Have others died? Have any patients had their blemoycin reaction treated successfully with steroids? Please help with any info you have.

    Posted by: Samantha L.
    October 1, 2015 - 11:35 AM
  13. So far no cases of bleomycin lung toxicity were reported in our patients. Perhaps that it is due to the fact that great majority of patients has the application of low cumulative dose i.e. around 20 000 IU. Furthermore, when multiple ECTs are envisioned the SOP should be taken into account. In the SOP it is recommended that cumulative dose of 400 000 IU should not be reached and known allergic reactions to bleomycin, pulmonary fibrosis and high creatinine levels should be considered. We have no experience with steroids in treatment of bleomycin reactions.

    Posted by: Anonymous
    October 28, 2015 - 10:33 AM

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