There’s new evidence that a technique called electrochemotherapy (ECT) may relieve mesothelioma pain and even shrink tumors. It may be an option for patients who have not had success with other treatments.
Cancer researchers with the Italian Ministry of Health recently conducted the first test of electrochemotherapy on pleural mesothelioma and several other rare cancers.
They found that zapping tumors with electricity helped the medicine go through the cell membranes. The treatment reduced pain for every patient tested. In most cases, it also slowed down or even temporarily stopped their tumor growth.
How Electrochemotherapy Works
Malignant mesothelioma is a rare membrane cancer. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for mesothelioma. But more than half of mesothelioma tumors do not respond to chemotherapy. One reason is that cancer cell membranes are good at keeping the medicine out.
Electrochemotherapy changes the permeability of cell membranes. Doctors put needle electrodes through the skin directly into the tumor. They deliver electrical pulses that cause temporary defects in the cell membrane.
Patients receive a cancer-fighting drug while the cell “gates” are open. Electrochemotherapy makes it easier for the medicine to get inside cancer cells and damage them. It also makes it possible for doctors to use less medicine. This may reduce the risk of chemotherapy side effects.
Electrodes can move to different areas to zap an entire mesothelioma tumor. Studies show that the technology works well for skin tumors. There has not been as much testing for internal tumors like mesothelioma.
Italian Test Yields Hopeful Results
Many mesothelioma patients have pain as their tumors grow. The Italian study aimed to see if electrochemotherapy could relieve pain. Researchers also wanted to see how tumors would respond.
The study included twenty cancer patients who failed with other treatments and were not candidates for surgery. The patients received the cancer drug bleomycin intravenously. While they were under anesthesia, doctors delivered electricity into the tumors with needles through the skin. This kind of electrochemotherapy is deep percutaneous ECT.
Every patient treated had less pain a month after treatment. On a scale of one to 10, median pain went down from 7.5 to 3. Patients had a median of 5.5 pain-free months.
Forty-five percent of patients had stable disease after electrochemotherapy. Half of patients had either partial or complete tumor response to the treatment. Only one patient failed to respond at all.
“Our study indicates that deep percutaneous ECT can produce a significant pain reduction and a high LDCR [local disease control rate] in different tumor lesions,” writes lead author Girolamo Ranieri.
Dr. Ranieri says the findings give doctors a new way to help reduce cancer pain in patients who do not have other options.
Ranieri, G, et al, “Local treatment with deep percutaneous electrochemotherapy of different tumor lesions: pain relief and objective response results from an observational study”, July 2020, European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, pp. 7764 – 7775, https://www.europeanreview.org/article/22279