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Having NanoKnife for pancreatic cancer

This is general information about what Nanoknife for pancreatic cancer involves. Treatment may vary in different hospitals, and may depend on your own situation. Your doctor should explain the treatment and the risk of any side effects before you agree to have IRE.

What happens during treatment?

You will be given a general anaesthetic (so that you are asleep and can’t feel anything), and a drug to relax your muscles. Doctors then insert needles through the skin of the abdomen (tummy area) and into and around the tumour. They use CT or ultrasound scans to guide the needles into place.

Short pulses of electricity are then fired between the needles. The needles may then be moved and the process repeated until the whole tumour and some of the surrounding area has been treated.

The electrical pulses can affect the heartbeat. To prevent this happening, your heart will be monitored during the treatment. Doctors use ECG (electrocardiography) monitoring so that the electrical pulses are delivered between heartbeats, when the heart is least affected by the electrical currents.

Will I have to stay in hospital?

You will have to stay in hospital overnight, to make sure that you have recovered from the general anaesthetic and aren’t in any pain or discomfort.

Any pain you do have can usually be controlled with painkillers such as paracetamol. Sometimes, in the first few hours after the treatment people may need stronger painkillers called opiates, such as fentanyl.

What are the side effects?

IRE doesn’t produce significant heat, which may help to reduce the damage to surrounding organs such as nearby major blood vessels and bile ducts. But we need more research into the side effects of Nanoknife for pancreatic cancer. Early studies have found some of the following side effects.

  • You may have some pain.
  • Some people get pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas. This is often mild, and can usually be managed with pain relief or antibiotics if necessary.
  • A small number of people get a blood clot in a vein, bleeding or an infection.
  • A small number of people have bile leakage or leaking from the bowel. This may happen if the bowel is damaged by the needles.

Speak to your doctor about the side effects of IRE.

If you are having chemotherapy, you may also get side effects from the chemotherapy.

“I had some stomach discomfort on the evening of the procedure, but was given painkillers which worked well. The following morning, I was discharged with no pain or after-effects other than a bruise on my abdomen.”

Check-ups after treatment

You will usually have a CT or PET scan a couple of months after the IRE treatment, to check how well it has worked. You may also have a blood test to check for tumour markers at this time. These are substances in the blood produced by the cancer, and can be used to help monitor the tumour.

If you also had chemotherapy, you will usually have a CT or MRI scan every three months. If you are still having chemotherapy, speak to your oncology team about what check-ups you will have.

Published October 2015
To be reviewed October 2017
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