Use of irreversible electroporation (IRE) doubles the survival time for patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer, according to research published in the Annals of Surgery (2015; doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000001441).

“The appropriate and precise use of IRE in appropriately selected patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer can result in a median overall survival close to 24 months, which is nearly double the survival rate with the best new chemotherapy and chemoradiotherapy,” said first author Robert C.G. Martin, II, MD, PhD, director of surgical oncology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

IRE uses ultra-short but strong electrical fields to create holes in cell membranes, ultimately leading to cell death. The main use of IRE lies in tumor removal in regions where precision and conservation of the basic cellular matrix, blood flow, and nerves are of importance.

In the study, 200 patients at six sites throughout the United States underwent IRE following chemotherapy. The patients were followed for up to 7 years after their initial diagnosis and treatment initiation. The average survival time for patients was close to 2 years.

IRE is commonly performed as an open surgery with an incision of about 6 to 8 cm. This allows for better visualization of probe placement, as well as tumor removal as dictated for individual patients. The procedure commonly requires a 5- to 7-day hospital stay and a 2- to 3-week recovery for the patient to return to their baseline quality of life

Pancreatic cancer has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers and is expected to climb from the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States to the second by 2020. Mortality rates are high, as 94% of pancreatic cancer patients die within 5 years after diagnosis, and 74% of patients die within the first year after diagnosis.

“This study demonstrates that IRE, in conjunction with standard-of-care, may substantially prolong the survival rates of patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer,” Martin said. “While additional research is needed, ablation may represent an addition to the current standard of care for stage III pancreatic cancer patients whose only treatment options until now have been chemotherapy or a combination of chemoradiation therapy.”