Who can have irreversible electroporation (IRE)?

IRE may be suitable for some people with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. Occasionally, it is offered to a few people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer.

IRE is not suitable for people with cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic cancer).

Locally advanced pancreatic cancer

IRE may be suitable for some people with locally advanced pancreatic cancer . This is cancer that has spread outside the pancreas to large blood vessels or a number of lymph nodes. It can’t usually be removed by surgery. The aim of IRE is to slow the growth of the cancer, help people live longer and treat symptoms.

If your cancer is close to major blood vessels (borderline resectable pancreatic cancer)

In some hospitals that provide IRE, it may be suitable for a small number of people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer . This is cancer that has grown very close to large blood vessels near the pancreas. It may be possible to remove the cancer with surgery , but it depends which blood vessels are affected.

During surgery to remove the cancer, IRE may be used for margin accentuation. This means that the IRE is used to treat the cells around the edges of the tumour before it is removed. The aim is to try to make the surgery as successful as possible. Margin accentuation should be done as part of research.

Some people with borderline resectable cancer may be offered surgery to remove the cancer. But during the operation the surgeon finds the cancer has grown too close to the large blood vessels to remove it. Although it’s not possible to remove the cancer, if the hospital provides IRE it may be used during the operation to treat it. The aim is to try to slow down the growth of the cancer. You may then be offered chemotherapy once you have recovered from the operation. If this is an option for you, your doctor will discuss this with you before your surgery. IRE used in this way should be done as part of research.

We don’t know much about IRE for borderline resectable pancreatic cancer and we need more research into this.

What else can affect whether I can have IRE?

There are other things that can affect whether IRE is suitable for you. For example, you will need to be fit enough to have a general anaesthetic. It may also depend on what other treatments you have already had, or how big the tumour is. It can be difficult to treat the whole tumour with IRE if it is larger.

IRE may not be suitable if you have an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), a pacemaker or other types of heart problems such as congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease. This is because the electrical currents can affect your heartbeat. Speak to your doctor about this. They may need to do an assessment to check whether you are fit enough for IRE.

Speak to your doctor about whether IRE might be an option for you and what it involves before making any decisions about your treatment.

How can I have irreversible electroporation (IRE)?

At the moment, IRE is only available in a few NHS hospitals. If it may be suitable for you, but isn’t available at your hospital, speak to your doctor about your options. They may be able to refer you to another hospital that does provide IRE.

Speak to our specialist nurses

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line for more information about IRE, where it is available, and how to access it.

Speak to our nurses
PCUK Specialist Nurse, Dianne Dobson, taking a Support Line call on the phone

Updated: June 2023

Review Date: June 2025