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Cancer Treat Rev. 2003 Oct;29(5):371-87.

Electrochemotherapy: results of cancer treatment using enhanced delivery of bleomycin by electroporation.

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Department of Oncology, Rigshospitalet, University of, Copenhagen, Denmark.


Over the last decade a new cancer treatment modality, electrochemotherapy, has emerged. By using short, intense electric pulses that surpass the capacitance of the cell membrane, permeabilization can occur (electroporation). Thus, molecules that are otherwise non-permeant can gain direct access to the cytosol of cells in the treated area.A highly toxic molecule that does not usually pass the membrane barrier is the hydrophilic drug bleomycin. Once inside the cell, bleomycin acts as an enzyme creating single- and double-strand DMA-breaks. The cytotoxicity of bleomycin can be augmented several 100-fold by electroporation. Drug delivery by electroporation has been in experimental use for cancer treatment since 1991. This article reviews 11 studies of electrochemotherapy of malignant cutaneous or subcutaneous lesions, e.g., metastases from melanoma, breast or head- and neck cancer. These studies encompass 96 patients with altogether 411 malignant tumours. Electroporation was performed using plate or needle electrodes under local or general anaesthesia. Bleomycin was administered intratumourally or intravenously prior to delivery of electric pulses. The rates of complete response (CR) after once-only treatments were between 9 and 100% depending on the technique used. The treatment was well tolerated and could be performed on an out-patient basis.

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