Electrochemotherapy may be used to treat some cancers that have spread to the skin or advanced melanoma tumours of the skin. It can help to control symptoms.

What is electrochemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Electrochemotherapy uses chemotherapy and a small electrical current to treat cancer cells. The doctor injects a low dose of chemotherapy into the tumour or into a vein (intravenously).

After this they put a probe (electrode) directly over the tumour to give the electrical pulse. The pulse changes the outside layer of the cells. This helps the chemotherapy get into the cancer cells and destroy them.

When is electrochemotherapy used?

Electrochemotherapy may be used to treat some cancers that have spread to the skin, or advanced melanoma tumours of the skin. It can help to control symptoms.

Having electrochemotherapy

If you are having an injection into a single area, the doctor will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area. During the treatment you may get muscle cramps. Tell your doctor if this happens. They can make a minor change to the way they give the treatment, which can help. The cramps will stop after the treatment finishes.

If they are treating lots of areas at the same time you may have it done with a general anaesthetic.

You usually have electrochemotherapy as an outpatient. Some people may stay in hospital overnight. Sometimes you can have the treatment more than once.

Because it is a newer treatment, it is not yet widely available. Your cancer doctor or nurse can give you more information about this treatment.

Side effects of electrochemotherapy

The side effects of electrochemotherapy are different to the side effects of chemotherapy. This is because they use low doses. You may get some mild sickness or feel breathless.

You may get other effects in the treated area. These can include:

  • redness and swelling in the treated area
  • a rash and mild scarring
  • the skin in the area may become lighter or darker. This might be permanent.

The nurse will tell you how to look after the area before you go home. The treated area often develops a scab which usually improves over a few weeks.

Contact your doctor or nurse straight away if the area becomes red, hot or swollen, or if there is any discharge.

You may have mild pain for a few weeks. Your doctor can prescribe painkillers to take until it goes away.