What is electrochemotherapy and how effective is it?

Oncological diseases occur not only in humans but also in our smaller brothers. In our country, for example, 57% of families have pets, which means a trip to the veterinarian is a common thing for many. Alas, situations in which a routine visit to a therapist takes a tragic turn are not uncommon. Moreover, the problems of oncology remain the focus of attention of veterinarians around the world due to the constant increase in incidence and poor treatment prognosis. The problem of squamous cell carcinoma in cats and dogs is especially acute – an aggressive tumor disease that mainly affects the skin and oral cavity and is often difficult to treat. Fortunately, there is some good news in this story, as an innovative approach has emerged in the field of veterinary medicine that offers new hope in the fight against one of the most devastating diseases – electrochemotherapy (ECT). We'll tell you what this method is, how pets are treated, and whether ECT is effective for humans.

What is electrochemotherapy and how effective is it? Electrochemotherapy has shown high effectiveness in veterinary oncology. Image: media.licdn.com. Photo.

Electrochemotherapy has shown high effectiveness in veterinary oncology. Image: media.licdn.com


  • 1 Veterinary Oncology
  • 2 Treatment
  • 3 Electrochemotherapy against cancer
  • 4 Revolution in veterinary medicine
    • 4.1 Electrochemotherapy in Russia
  • 5 Electrochemotherapy for the treatment of oncology in people

Veterinary oncology

Cancer is not one disease, but many different conditions with one common feature: uncontrolled cell division that can invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body. In pets, as in humans,cancer can affect almost any organ or tissue.

The causes of cancer in animals are varied and include a variety of factors such as genetic predisposition, exposure to environmental carcinogens, viral infections and age. Some dog breeds, for example, have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, indicating that the disease may be hereditary.

Veterinary oncology. Pets are also susceptible to cancer. Image: vosrc.net. Photo.

Pets are also susceptible to cancer. Image: vosrc.net

Unfortunately, it is difficult for most pet owners to suspect a malignant neoplasm in their pet and most often this occurs as symptoms appear. Common signs may include fatigue, loss of appetite or weight, lumps or lumps on the skin, bleeding or discharge, coughing or shortness of breath, changes in the digestive system or difficulty urinating.

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The initial diagnosis is carried out by a veterinarian during a physical examination of the animal, then laboratory tests, ultrasound, x-rays, biopsies, MRIs and other imaging methods are prescribed. Biopsy and subsequent histological analysis are the gold standard for accurate diagnosis of cancer. Treatment for cancer in pets depends on the type and stage of the disease and may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and supportive care.


None of us wants to hear a diagnosis of «cancer» – whether in a person or a pet. However, there is no need to be afraid of oncologists, since the earlier the problem is identified, the better the prognosis. Thus, in veterinary oncology there are modern methods of therapy, thanks to which it is possible to achieve remission or, in incurable cases, improve the quality of life.

Treatment of cancer in animals is aimed at relieving pain and suffering, as well as to prolong life as long as the quality of that life can be maintained. Treatment is generally much less aggressive than in humans.

Depending on the type of tumor and its location, the veterinary oncologist will suggest possible treatment options. The most effective treatment for cancer in cats and dogs is surgical removal of the tumor followed by chemotherapy to prevent recurrence. Note, however, that not all cancers are resectable, and the same applies to chemotherapy.

Treatment. Veterinary oncology is an actively developing branch of medicine. Image: vetmed.ucdavis.edu. Photo.

Veterinary oncology is an actively developing branch of medicine. Image: vetmed.ucdavis.edu

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The latter is especially relevant for such neoplasms as squamous cell carcinoma(SCC) is a locally invasive malignant tumor that arises from a type of cell called keratinocytes (also known as squamous cell carcinoma), the main type of cell found in the skin and mucous membranes.

Unfortunately, SCC is common in pets quite common—it is considered the fourth most common type of skin cancer in cats and by far the most common type of oral cancer. In dogs, it accounts for 5% of all skin tumors and is considered the second most common type of oral oncology.

Treatment. Radiation therapy has shown high effectiveness in treating cancer in animals. Image: inbusiness.kz. Photo.

Radiation therapy has shown high effectiveness in treating cancer in animals. Image: inbusiness.kz

SCC is practically not amenable to chemotherapy, which is why veterinary oncologists recommend surgical removal of the tumor (if possible) andradiation therapy– a type of anti-cancer therapy in which specialists destroy cancer cells by exposing them to ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, gamma rays, high-energy electrons or heavy particles.

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Radiation therapy has proven highly effective in controlling SCC in animals. In cases where the tumor is inoperable (for example, with SCC of the tongue in cats), radiation therapy allows one to gain local control of the tumor and improve the patient’s overall well-being. Unfortunately, we are not talking about complete remission in such cases – the survival rate of cats with SCC in the oral cavity is 3-6 months.

Electrochemotherapy against cancer

Fortunately, an innovative approach in the field veterinary oncology gives hope to even the most difficult patients. We are talking aboutelectrochemotherapy(ECT), which has been shown to be highly effective in treating basal cell tumors and the more rare basosquamous carcinomas found on or near the plane of the nose in cats. Electrochemotherapy is also effective in controlling squamous cell carcinoma in cats and dogs. But what exactly is this procedure?

Electrochemotherapy (ECT)is a cancer treatment that uses short electrical pulses to create temporary holes in the cell membrane, allowing drugs to penetrate into a cancer cell (electroporation). This process results in greater absorption of the medication compared to injections or tablets.

To put it a little more simply, during ECT, the membrane of the tumor cell is exposed to short-term electrical impulses of a certain voltage.

Electrochemotherapy against cancer. Veterinary oncologists perform electrochemotherapy. Image: veterinary-practice.com. Photo.

Veterinary oncologists administer electrochemotherapy. Image: veterinary-practice.com

Since tumor cells are more sensitive to electroporation than normal tissue cells, the rate of complications after the procedure is quite low. Moreover,ECT generally does not cause common side effectsand marks a real breakthrough in veterinary oncology.

Thus, a series of clinical cases demonstrated not only the effectiveness of ECT and calcium electroporation in completely curing cancerous tumors for an impressive period of 9 months to 1 year, but also minimal and treatable side effects. These included nasal discharge and sneezing – minor inconveniences compared to the life-extending benefits of treatment.

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Electrochemotherapy against cancer. This is what the device for carrying out ECT looks like. Image: media.springernature.com. Photo.

This is what the apparatus for performing ECT looks like. Image: media.springernature.com

«Electrochemotherapy is safe, minimally invasive and effective, representing a powerful weapon against various types of skin cancer that affect pets», experts note.

A revolution in veterinary medicine

Speaking about the effectiveness of ECT, one cannot fail to mention the story of the English cat Akai, who was diagnosed with SCC of the tongue with a life expectancy of 50 days. In 2020, Akai's owners approached Gerry Paulton, an oncology specialist and director of Linnaeus North Downs Specialist Referrals (NDSR) in Bletchingley, to treat their pet with ECT. The results amazed everyone – after the procedure, the tumor had resolved.

In early 2020, Akai was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on the underside of her tongue. This is a painful and destructive tumor, and usually the life expectancy in such cases is only about 50 days. However, two years have passed since the procedure and the fact that the cat is happy and doing well at the moment is amazing, says Paulton, from the European and Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

A revolution in veterinary medicine. The cat Akai defeated squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. Image: veterinary-practice.com. Photo.

Cat Akai defeated squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. Image: veterinary-practice.com

Experts are sharing Akai's story to raise awareness of electrochemotherapy and its effectiveness. ECT showed the best results in the treatment of nasal SCC in cats and dogs, achieving complete remission in 86% of cases.

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< h3> Electrochemotherapy in Russia

It was not by chance that I learned that an innovative treatment method had appeared in veterinary oncology – at the next appointment with the veterinarian, the same diagnosis was announced – squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. As the owner of a seven-year-old and previously healthy cat, I followed all the recommendations of the veterinary oncologist and at the same time looked for information about similar cases, treatment methods and prognosis.

After the biopsy, the attending physician recommended radiation therapy, but this procedure carries a high risk necrosis of the tongue (about 35%). In my search for the best treatment methods, I learned that electrochemotherapy is available and used in Russia, in particular in Moscow.

Electrochemotherapy in Russia. Monty, the cat of the author of this article, is awaiting the ECT procedure. Photo.

Monty, the author's cat, is awaiting ECT.

Despite the fact that the prognosis remains cautious at the moment, my pet and I decided to undergo ECT. Well, we will definitely tell you about the results of therapy and the details of the procedure!

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Electrochemotherapy for the treatment of oncology in humans

Since cancer affects humans and animals, the latest treatment methods used in veterinary oncology are of critical importance for all of us. To date, ECT has been used in the treatment of superficial metastases of malignant melanoma in humans, and the results are promising.

The 2022 paper states that “in all patients, 15–30 days after ECT, complete regression of tumor nodes was observed. In 2 patients, after ECT, there was no relapse or growth of new lesions for 10 months. In 1 patient, 3 months after ECT, there was a tumor relapse; in 1 patient, after 5 months, there was a recurrence of metastatic formations and the appearance of new lesions in nearby anatomical areas.

Electrochemotherapy for the treatment of oncology in humans. ECT is a new word in the fight against cancer. Image: pub.mdpi-res.com. Photo.

ECT is a new word in the fight against cancer Image: pub.mdpi-res.com

ECT may be the treatment of choice in patients with superficial metastases of melanoma, allowing to increase the effectiveness of systemic and local therapy,” write the authors of the scientific work.

At the moment, ECT used in Israel to treat skin cancer. And to put it simply, something incredible is happening right before our eyes – the combination of two technologies – chemotherapy and electrical influence – has already become a new word in medicine.