What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive technique that uses heat to destroy tumors, using CT scan or Ultrasound guidance, a small needle electrode is placed directly into the tumor. The electrode’s high frequency radio waves create intense heat killing cancerous cells. RFA is most often used to treat liver and kidney tumors.

RFA is less traumatic than surgery, so it is an alternative for older patients, those who are frail or patients who have medical conditions that exclude surgery as an option. It has also been successful when radiation or chemotherapy has failed. Unlike radiation, RFA does not adversely affect the immune system, and patients can receive more than 1 treatment if necessary.

Some of the advantages of RFA include (1) it is a minimally invasive treatment that can usually be done on an outpatient basis, (2) the heat generated by RFA treatment also closes blood vessels which helps to reduce blood loss, and (3) it can be used to treat inoperable tumors, mostly involving the liver and kidney.

What can I expect during this procedure?

Radiofrequency ablation is generally done in a room devoted to CT or ultrasound imaging. After you lie down on the examining table the tumor will be located and you will receive intravenous sedation to avoid discomfort during the procedure. You may or may not remain awake, depending on how deeply you are sedated. The skin area where the needle passes through will be numbed with local anesthetic to further decrease discomfort. Each radiofrequency ablation treatment takes about 12 to 30 minutes and the total procedure will be completed in one to three hours, depending on how many tumor sites have to be treated. After radiofrequency ablation you may receive further medication to prevent pain and nausea as the sedation wears off. Afterwards you will remain in the recovery room until totally awake and ready to leave for home. Only about 2 percent of patients will still have any degree of pain a week after radiofrequency ablation.

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