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What is Electrochemotherapy?

Electrochemotherapy (ECT) is a relatively new, cutting edge treatment method for treating canine cancer. This involves enhancing the delivery of traditional chemotherapy by using an electrical field. An electrical field is delivered to the cancerous mass for only a few milliseconds. This causes the cancer cells to become more permeable for approximately an hour after treatment. This increases chemotherapy absorption by up to a thousandfold. In fact, ECT has successfully treated forms of cancer which do not typically respond to chemotherapy.

ECT is only offered at a few specialist cancer centers in the United States. It is more popular in Europe.

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Electrochemotherapy Procedure in Dogs

  1. The veterinary specialist will first perform a physical examination and assess the dog’s history. Fine needle biopsy, tissue biopsy, x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood work will also be taken.
  2. Each tumor is examined and treated separately.
  3. The specialist will choose the appropriate electrodes to use for treatment before preparing the chemotherapy drugs (typically cisplatin or bleomycin). These may be administered intravenously or injected directly into the tumor.
  4. General anesthesia or a strong sedative is then administered.
  5. A gel is applied to the skin prior to the application of the electrodes, which are connected to a pulse generator and control screen.
  6. Electric pulses are then delivered to the tumor. The frequency and interval between each pulse will vary based on the cancer and type of electrode used.
  7. All contaminated material is then disposed of.
  8. The dog will be hospitalized, usually for up to two hours, until it is conscious and stable.
  9. Most dogs will require up to three treatments.

Efficacy of Electrochemotherapy in Dogs

ECT is one of the most revolutionary cancer treatments available today. It is incredibly safe and can be used in conjunction with other treatments. ECT allows chemotherapy drugs, particularly bleomycin, to better permeate cancer cells. This drug, however, is formed of large molecules that may not reach the cancer cells. ECT allows these molecules to enter and destroy the cells. 

Clinical trials have proved promising in both animals and humans. At present, ECT works best for skin tumors and those affecting the subcutaneous tissues. The success rate of ECT is 80%, and the results often last longer compared to cases treated with chemotherapy alone. Surgical treatment has a success rate of just 50%.

Electrochemotherapy Recovery in Dogs

You will need to monitor your dog for the first few hours after the procedure while the anesthesia or sedative wears off. The procedure is not typically painful, and does not cause adverse effects. However, if you notice signs of an allergic reaction to the sedative or anesthesia, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Follow-up appointments will be scheduled for one, two, and four weeks after therapy to monitor the condition. The appointments will then be scheduled monthly after the fourth week. Additional appointments may be required to administer other forms of treatment.

Cost of Electrochemotherapy in Dogs

The cost of ECT will vary based on the number of treatment sessions, as well as standards of living and additional treatment costs incurred. ECT is much more cost-effective than chemotherapy and radiation, with an average price of $1,500.

Dog Electrochemotherapy Considerations

The efficacy of ECT is still being evaluated. However, numerous veterinary specialists across Europe have offered the procedure since 2004. Current veterinary literature shows that ECT is a safe, effective, and revolutionary cancer treatment that has the potential to vastly improve the quality of life for dogs diagnosed with cancer. A complete, long-lasting response is often achieved after just one treatment, and the procedure is far less invasive than surgery.

To date, there are no contraindications for or complications associated with this procedure. The veterinary specialist will discuss all possible complications with you prior to treatment.

Electrochemotherapy Prevention in Dogs

Because of the nature of the disease, cancer is impossible to prevent. Dogs diagnosed with and treated for cancer should not be bred.

Electrochemotherapy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Labrador Retriever
14 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My laborador was diagnosed with a hemangiopericytoma 5 years ago on his right elbow. The tumor was removed and came back about 3 months later. We removed it and it had not returned for 5 years. Last April it started to go back. The vet said to wait and observe it because she said removal would not be good because the amount of tissue removed 5 years ago. His vet called me and said we should look into electrochemotherapy. How safe is it for a 14 year old lab he has had the growth for almost a year now and is about the size of a hard ball. It doesn't seem to affect him but it is growing. I am worried about anesthesia and how the procedure would affect him.

Michele King
Dr. Michele King, DVM
285 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without knowing more about Buddy's history, health status, and systemic function, I'm not sure whether the anesthesia would be safe for him. Your veterinarian is able to run some routine lab work and assess his body functions, and can give you an idea as to the risks associated with the anesthetic - there are some very safe anesthetics available now, and if your veterinarian thinks that Buddy would benefit from the electrochemotherapy, it is worth having that discussion with them as far as risks and benefits. I hope that he does well.

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14 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Regrowth of mass

MY 14 year old Lab/Husky mix had a cutaneous melanoma (approx. 1/2 cm.) surgically removed from his lip, just below the right side of his nose on 9/20/17. Histology showed it had started to infiltrate the underlying dermis. It has now started to grow back in the same area, but this time inward on the underside of is lip. He had a chest x-ray on 12/15/17 and so far his lungs look clear. Electrochemotherapy was suggested a good treatment option. Any thoughts? How effective is this treatment for melanoma.

Michele King
Dr. Michele King, DVM
285 Recommendations
Lesley, thank you for contacting us about Tonka. I'm sorry that he is having these troubles. Electrochemotherapy is a relatively new mode of therapy for certain types of cancers, and has shown promising results. If your veterinarian offers this option, it seems to be a viable treatment alternative for dermal cancers like melanomas.

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8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Tumour return

Hi, Buddy had electro-chemo on a mast cell tumour (low grade) 7 weeks ago (on 7/6/17). He had a tumour removed 7mths prior to his adoption to me in April 2017. Week 7 after his electro-chemo, just as his scab was starting to shrink, he tumour has come back even bigger. Now I am reading this info sheet and states that some dogs may require a few goes at it. Is it normal for a mast cell tumour to re-appear after such a short time? I mean, his scabs were just starting to shrink and looking good then pow!!!

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1823 Recommendations

Mast cell tumours may lay dormant for a while, look like they are shrinking then all of a sudden they can grow very quickly; it is not unusual for this to happen and in some cases it is a case of managing the severity and spread rather than curing the tumour. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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