Irreversible electroporation (also called IRE or NanoKnife®) is a minimally invasive alternative to treating cancerous tumors. During IRE, our board-certified interventional radiologists insert one or more thin probes into the tumor, delivering pulses of electrical energy that damage abnormal cells and cause them to die off.
Why Irreversible Electroporation (IRE) is Performed
Irreversible electroporation (IRE) may be used in addition to or instead of surgery. It may also be used as a complement to chemotherapy and radiation when tumors cannot be removed surgically. IRE is most commonly used to treat the following cancers:
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
What to Expect During Irreversible Electroporation (IRE)
During Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), computed tomography (CT) imaging is used to create a detailed picture or map of the tumor and surrounding areas. Before your procedure begins, you will receive general anesthesia through a mask or intravenous (IV) line, which will help to keep you comfortable and safe during the procedure. Under general anesthesia, you are unaware of your surroundings during surgery and you will feel no pain or other sensations.
Through a small incision, your interventional radiologist will insert two to six needles around the tumor. Electrical currents are then passed between the needles, pulsating electrical energy that damages cell walls and forces the targeted cells to die off.
After the procedure is complete, you will stay in the hospital overnight to recover from the effects of general anesthesia.
Risk and Benefits of Irreversible Electroporation (IRE)
Irreversible Electroporation (IRE) is a safe, minimally invasive procedure that allows for a faster recovery and fewer complications than traditional surgery. IRE is especially beneficial for targeting tumors that are close to blood vessels. This makes it a great alternative for patients who are not candidates for ablative therapy procedures, such as cryoablation, microwave ablation, or radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
While uncommon, there is always the possibility of complications, as with any medical procedure. Risks may include trouble eating or drinking immediately following the procedure. While rare, it’s also possible for patients to develop abnormal heart rhythms. Your care team will speak with you about the risks of the procedure and the steps they will take to minimize these complications.
How to Prepare for Irreversible Electroporation (IRE)
Before Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), your interventional radiologist will ask you about all current medications, as some may need to be stopped prior to the scheduled procedure, including aspirin and blood thinners. You may also be asked to see a cardiologist to ensure you are not at risk of developing heart arrhythmias.
Your care team will communicate any restrictions on eating and drinking prior to your appointment time. Because you will receive general anesthesia, you should not plan to drive after IRE. Instead, make arrangements for someone else to take you home the day after your procedure.
Post Irreversible Electroporation (IRE)
After Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), you will stay overnight in the hospital to recover. You may experience a bit of soreness at the incision sites and your doctor can prescribe pain medication, if necessary. It is not unusual to feel fatigued for several days following IRE, but you should be able to resume normal activities within one week.
One to three months after treatment, you may receive a CT scan to see how well the IRE treatment worked. It may take more than one session to treat your tumor.