Irreversible Electroporation for Nonthermal Tumor Ablation in the Clinical Setting: A Systematic Review of Safety and Efficacy

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To provide an overview of current clinical results of irreversible electroporation (IRE), a novel, nonthermal tumor ablation technique that uses electric pulses to induce cell death, while preserving structural integrity of bile ducts and vessels.


All in-human literature on IRE reporting safety or efficacy or both was included. All adverse events were recorded. Tumor response on follow-up imaging from 3 months onward was evaluated.


In 16 studies, 221 patients had 325 tumors treated in liver (n = 129), pancreas (n = 69), kidney (n = 14), lung (n = 6), lesser pelvis (n = 1), and lymph node (n = 2). No major adverse events during IRE were reported. IRE caused only minor complications in the liver; however, three major complications were reported in the pancreas (bile leak [n = 2], portal vein thrombosis [n = 1]). Complete response at 3 months was 67%–100% for hepatic tumors (93%–100% for tumors < 3 cm). Pancreatic IRE combined with surgery led to prolonged survival compared with control patients (20 mo vs 13 mo) and significant pain reduction.


In cases where other techniques are unsuitable, IRE is a promising modality for the ablation of tumors near bile ducts and blood vessels. This articles gives an extensive overview of the available evidence, which is limited in terms of quality and quantity. With the limitations of the evidence in mind, IRE of central liver tumors seems relatively safe without major complications, whereas complications after pancreatic IRE appear more severe. The available limited results for tumor control are generally good. Overall, the future of IRE for difficult-to-reach tumors appears promising.

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