• noninvasive radiofrequency;
  • pancreatic cancer;
  • autophagy;
  • gemcitabine;
  • chemotherapy enhancer


Patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) have limited therapeutic options and poor response to the standard gemcitabine (GCB)-based chemotherapy. In the current study, the authors investigated the feasibility of noninvasive short-wave radiofrequency (RF) electric fields to improve the cytotoxic effect of GCB on PDAC cells and determined its mechanism of action.


The cytotoxicity of RF alone and in combination with GCB was studied in vitro on normal pancreatic human pancreatic ductal epithelial cells and different PDAC cell lines by flow cytometry, and in vivo on ectopic and orthotopic human PDAC xenograft models in mice. The mechanism of RF activity was studied by Western blot analysis and immunohistochemistry. Toxicity was determined by histopathology.


Exposure of different PDAC cells to 13.56-megahertz radio waves resulted in a substantial cytotoxic effect, which was accompanied by the induction of autophagy but not apoptosis. These effects of RF were found to be absent in normal cells. Excessive numbers of autophagosomes in cancer cells persisted 24 to 48 hours after RF exposure and then declined. The addition of a subtoxic dose of GCB to RF treatment inhibited the recovery of cancer cells from the RF-induced autophagy and enhanced the cytotoxic effect of the latter on cancer cells. The treatment of PDAC in situ in mice with the combination of noninvasive RF and GCB was found to have a superior antitumor effect compared with the use of RF or GCB alone, yet there was no evidence of systemic toxicity.


Noninvasive RF treatment induced autophagy but not apoptosis in cancer cells and demonstrated potential as an enhancer of chemotherapy for treating patients with pancreatic cancer without toxicity to normal cells. Cancer 2014;120:480–491. © 2013 American Cancer Society.