Speak to our specialist nurses
You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line for more information about IRE.
The aim of IRE is to slow the growth of pancreatic cancer by destroying the cancer cells. This may help some people live longer. It can also help treat symptoms such as pain.
At the moment there has not been much research into IRE for people with pancreatic cancer, so we don’t know enough about how well it works. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have said that IRE should only be used in research studies looking at how well it treats pancreatic cancer. This means that some NHS hospitals that provide IRE for pancreatic cancer are helping to collect information about how well it works.
IRE is only available in a few hospitals in the UK. If it is suitable for you but isn’t available at your hospital, your doctor may be able to refer you to a hospital that does provide IRE.
IRE may be suitable for some people with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. Locally advanced cancer is cancer that is starting to spread outside the pancreas to nearby organs and blood vessels and can’t be removed with surgery.
In some of the hospitals that provide IRE, it might also be offered to a few people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer. Borderline resectable cancer is cancer that has grown very close to or around the major blood vessels near the pancreas. It may be possible to have surgery to remove the cancer, but it depends which blood vessels are affected and how far the cancer has grown. For a small number of people, IRE may be used to treat the tumour and try to kill the cancer cells near the blood vessels. The aim of IRE for borderline resectable cancer is to make it possible to remove the cancer, although this will happen for only a few people. There is not much evidence on IRE used in this way, and we need more research into this.
Read more about who IRE may be suitable for.
Before having IRE treatment you will normally have three to six months of chemotherapy on its own or with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). If you have already had chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy, you may not need to have further treatment before having IRE.
The treatment itself involves having a general anaesthetic so you will be asleep and won’t feel anything. Doctors will insert two to six needles around the tumour. Electrical currents are then passed between the needles.
We need more research into the side effects of IRE for pancreatic cancer.
Read more about the possible side effects. Speak to your doctor about the risks and side effects of IRE.
As there isn’t much research into IRE, if you are thinking about having it it’s really important that you speak to your doctor about it before making any decisions. Ask them any questions you might have about IRE, including whether it is suitable for you, how effective it is, where it’s available, and the possible side effects. Don’t stop any treatment while you are thinking about having IRE.
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We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on irreversible electroporation (IRE).
Updated: May 2018
To be reviewed: May 2020