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The Electrochemotherapy Pet Cancer Treatment Option – Updated 2022

Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy aren’t the only tools veterinary oncologists use to fight pet cancer. The electrochemotherapy pet cancer treatment option can be ideal for dogs and cats diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in or just under the skin. It’s also useful when a tumor removal surgery resulted in “dirty” margins.

In this first of a four-part interview series with Jeannette M. Kelly, DVM Diplomate ACVIM, Oncology, you’ll learn:

  • How electrochemotherapy works
  • Who makes the best candidate for electrochemotherapy
  • And what to expect after electrochemotherapy treatment
Learn more in Part 2 with Dr. Kelly,
Electrochemotherapy in Pets Q&A
Learn Dr. Kelly’s facts about
bisphosphonates for bone cancer in Part 3

Electrochemotherapy in Pets: a Radiation Therapy Alternative

Jerry, Tripawds Founder
Jerry enjoyed more time thanks to Dr. Kelly’s team.

First, a little backstory on Dr. Kelly, our favorite veterinary oncology trailblazer. When Tripawds founder Jerry was diagnosed with lung metastasis, we headed straight for her clinic, the Veterinary Cancer Care clinic in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We wanted an option to fight lung metastasis, and her team had it.

Dr. Kelly’s team combined metronomics (a low-dose at-home chemotherapy treatment) with the medicinal mushrooms clinical trial her clinic was conducting. In a few short weeks, the treatments stabilized Jerry’s lung tumors. He enjoyed seven more fantastic months with us and we’ve been fans of her work ever since.

Team Tripawds visits the Veterinary Cancer Care clinic in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Kelly at her cozy Santa Fe clinic to ask her about her work. The result is this month’s four-part video series.

In our first video, Dr. Kelly gives us an electrochemotherapy demonstration using an ugly old tomato as the tumor stand-in. Read below for the transcript and the electrochemotherapy pet cancer treatment option.

Electrochemotherapy Brought to You By a Veterinary Oncology Trailblazer

As the sole veterinarian of her boutique oncology practice, Dr. Kelly has the freedom to provide tailored oncology therapies as unique as the animals she treats.

Not bound by corporate interests, she is not afraid to break from convention. She’s willing to try new treatments that may help her patients. Some of her clients travel to her from many states away. They bring their pets because they understand that Dr. Kelly and her team provide a one-on-one approach unlike anything offered in a mainstream veterinary oncology practice.

Tripawd electrochemotherapy treatment
Codie Rae with Dr. Kelly

Longtime Tripawds member Codie Rae is one such lucky dog. When the 13-year old Tripawd was diagnosed with an atypical osteosarcoma mouth tumor earlier this year, her oncologist recommended following current American Animal Hospital Association Veterinary Oncology Guidelines. That meant an invasive tumor removal surgery and multiple rounds of radiation therapy.

Codie’s humans, Martha and Ralph, felt the conventional treatment would be too much for their geriatric girl to tolerate. Deep research into alternative ways to treat soft tissue tumors eventually led them to the electrochemotherapy pet cancer treatment option.

Why You’ve Never Heard of Electrochemotherapy

We didn’t know about the electrochemotherapy pet cancer treatment option until Angel Neka shared the information in her Tripawds blog, “Electrochemotherapy (ECT) for STS journey -same day & day 1 post op.”

Tripawd Neka
Thank you for sharing your electrochemotherapy journey, Neka.

Electrochemotherapy (ECT) is well studied and practiced in many countries outside the United States. For both pets and people it’s life-saving in parts of the world lacking radiation therapy equipment. And at a fraction of the price of radiation therapy, it offers a relatively affordable way to attack cancerous tumors.

Electrochemotherapy is a type of treatment that enhances the delivery of traditional chemotherapy drugs to the interior of a cancer cell through the local application of short and intense electrical pulses. These pulses transiently permeabilize the cell membrane, thus allowing transport of chemotherapy.

ECT can also increase absorption of the drug by up to a thousand-fold that would not otherwise be permitted by the cell membrane. Electrochemotherapy can also be beneficial in shrinking a tumor, thus making surgical removal more successful, if required. – Electrochemotherapy FAQs by Megan Padget, Veterinary Cancer Care, Santa Fe NM

Facts about Electrochemotherapy Treatment for Pets

  • Ideal for cancerous tumors that can’t be treated with chemotherapy.
  • Can be given to patients who have already been treated with radiation therapy.
  • One session requires general anesthesia, takes about 30 minutes and the patient goes home the same day
  • Electrochemotherapy has no systemic side effects
  • The non-recurrence success rates in pets with cancer exceeds 85% in different electrochemotherapy veterinary studies.

As Angel Neka discovered in her search for an alternative soft tissue sarcoma treatment, electrochemotherapy isn’t commonly offered to cancer patients in the United States. A lack of U.S.-led research keeps American oncologists from including it in “standard-of-care” protocols.

Dr. Kelly, however, remains undaunted and is one of the few U.S. veterinarians offering electrochemotherapy to patients. She knows it works for the right clients like Codie Rae and Neka.

After speaking with Dr. Kelly about the treatment, Martha and Ralph knew they wanted to give ECT a chance. In May, Codie Rae took a road trip from Oakland, California to see Dr. Kelly. She treated Codie’s multiple tumors with a minor tumor resection surgery and electrochemotherapy. She also prescribed metronomic chemotherapy as a preventive.

One month later, the leader of the Oaktown Pack is enjoying a better quality of life in a fraction of the time radiation therapy would have provided, if ever.

Stay tuned for our the second interview with Dr. Kelly, where she answers questions about this important radiation therapy alternative for pets and people alike.

electrochemotherapy pet cancer treatment information
Download Dr. Kelly’s electrochemotherapy fact sheet.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Electrochemotherapy Pet Cancer Treatment: What is Electrochemotherapy?

Hi. I’m Dr. Jeannette Kelly, owner, founder of Veterinary Cancer Care here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Electrochemotherapy is a tool. We inject a tumor with chemotherapy and then electrical currents are put either on top of the tumor or directly into the tumor with probes and it sends electrical currents. It opens up the cancer cells and then it kills a certain percentage of cancer calls with each treatment.

Electrochemo can be used when a tumor is really large and you cannot remove it surgically. So you can make it smaller and then a surgeon can go ahead and remove the tumor and with less harm to the patient with a much smaller procedure.

Electrochemo can cause clotting of the blood. So if a tumor is really vascular and bleeding, it can make it so there’s not a lot of bleeding during the surgical procedure.

Electrochemo can be used after surgery. So if you have a surgery done and you didn’t get it all out and you’re worried about the tumor reoccurring, that maybe there are some cancer cells left behind. Then you can perform electrochemo to clean up cancer cells being left behind and then we use electrochemo in a lot of our older patients. We call it palliatively to make them comfortable. Big, huge tumor under the armpit, so they’re having a hard time walking. They are lopsided. They’re out of alignment. We will shrink that tumor down, just one treatment, so they can run and play and sometimes we can get a 50 percent reduction in the tumor. Sometimes you can get 75 and sometimes one treatment is all it takes.

(Dr. Kelly provides electrochemotherapy demonstration)

Here it is. Hit “charge” and then pulse, charge, and then pulse. So I would use the pedal. I put my foot on charge. I have the probe in the tumor and then I pulse and then I pick another spot on the tumor and I hit “charge” and then pulse. So it’s a simple unit. It’s portable. So, OK, so charge, pulse, charge, pulse. So there is that.

Sometimes for better conduction, we will use ultrasound gel. So we don’t want sparks. We will put ultrasound gel. Sometimes we will shave and it’s – each tumor we – or – and tumor site we treat differently. This is the skin probe. I like this probe the best where I actually can inject it right into the area.

[End of transcript]

Catch Part 2 of our Electrochemotherapy Pet Cancer Treatment interview series, “Electrochemotherapy Q&A with Dr. Kelly.

Learn the facts about bisphosphonates for bone cancer in Part 3 with Dr. Kelly.

Read this 2020 Electrochemotherapy Study: The application of electrochemotherapy in three dogs with inoperable cancers

Also see: Outcome Following Curative-Intent Electrochemotherapy for Extramedullary Plasmocytoma in Dogs – Case Reports

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8 thoughts on “The Electrochemotherapy Pet Cancer Treatment Option – Updated 2022”

  1. Hi, do you know of anyone closer to Ohio who is skilled and confident using electrochemotherapy to treat a large, fibrosarcoma on my cats mouth, now covering her right, bottom jaw and starting to spread to her trachea? She has had 2 debulkings and our regular Vet can no longer debulk as he cant intubate due to the spread to her throat/back of mouth area. Ive been to 2 oncologists so far – the 1st one told me about electrochemotherapy and recommended it. The 2nd one, I drove hours to get to their facility, OSU in Ohio, and they did not sound very confident using it. They offer it but said it is very new and they have only used it a few times so far and that one dog they had used it on had a bad reaction where it ‘rotted his entire leg off,’ and I cannot risk that happening to my cats head/face. im desperate to find help for her before it grows more and blocks her breathing. She is having trouble eating already due to the size of the mass. We have her on syringe feedings and bowls of high calorie wet food mixed with water to thin it. She is drinking ok and has a healthy appetite.
    Thank you so much,
    Candi Rogers:

    • Candi, I’m sorry to hear about your cat. So why didn’t you go to the oncologist who recommended electrochemo? Do they not offer it? Honestly they would be your best bet to ask for a referral to a practitioner who does. P.S. I’m deleting your phone number from your post out of security concerns for you. That information should never be posted online, you never know what kind of nutty things people will do.

  2. My all white rescue has a massive tumor on the side of his head. Surgery is not an option at the moment not enough skin. Can this treatment help shrink it. Cat is Diabetic and has calicivirus. I can email you pics.

    Thank you

    • Yari, there might be options like radiation therapy or electrochemotherapy. The best person to talk to is a veterinary oncologist. If your vet doesn’t refer you to one let us know and we can try to help find one for you.

  3. My dog had masectomy 1 year ago & one rear leg lynph node removed in March metastisized to lung. Several small tumors. Can she get electrochemo? How effective in the lungs. It is andenoma carcinoma – mammary cancer

  4. Whohoo..yay for more attention to this treatment.
    And thanks for mentioning my Neka..u guys made me smile ear to ear..I mean literally smile!!…I’m also open to any questions anyone has:)

    • I am soooo glad you saw it Steph! If it wasn’t for you and beautiful Neka this treatment wouldn’t have been on our radar. Thanks to you, we finally got to dive into this topic and hopefully others will investigate it if their vets didn’t present it as a choice. You are such a great pet parent, advocate and friend to the Tripawds community. Thank you so much.


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