Tumor Ablation

Ablation is an image-guided, non-surgical treatment in which interventional radiologists guide a needle-tipped catheter directly into a tumor, then shrink or destroy the tumor with extreme heat or cold. Because imaging guidance is used to precisely locate the tumor, the normal surrounding tissue is spared the effects of the heat or cold.

After tumor ablation, the dead tumor tissue shrinks and is replaced by scar tissue over time, and may eventually disappear. Because ablation can shrink tumors, it may increase longevity, relieve pain, and in some cases can cure cancer.

There are several different kinds of ablation used to treat cancer:

  • Radiofrequency ablation, in which we transmit high-frequency electrical currents through the needle, which create enough heat to destroy the tumor cells.
  • Cryoablation, a technique in which we circulate argon and helium gas through the needle, lowering the temperature in the tumor to -40°C for several minutes.
  • Microwave ablation, in which we transmit electromagnetic microwaves through the needle; these agitate water molecules in the tumor cells, creating enough heat to destroy the tumor cells.

When is the procedure recommended? 

Ablation is currently a standard treatment for inoperable liver tumors, and it is being increasingly used for other cancers, such as lung, kidney, and certain benign and malignant bone tumors. People with inoperable tumors, or who have other medical problems that make them high-risk for surgery, may be candidates ablation.

How is the procedure performed?

Using an imaging test such as computed tomography (CT), the interventional radiologist will locate the tumor, choose an insertion point above a blood vessel for the catheter, then numb the area with a local anesthetic and make a very small incision at the site.

Then, under real-time guidance using ultrasound, or by 3D calculations from the CT images, a probe that transmits heat or cold to the site of the tumor is guided into position. Once the probe is in place the radiologist will heat or freeze the cancer cells surrounding the probe. If the tumor is large, it may be necessary to reposition the needle into different parts of it to do multiple ablations and ensure that no tumor tissue is left behind.

What are the benefits?

  • Minimally invasive, not requiring a skin incision. Ablation is often used instead of open surgery to treat breast tumors and thyroid nodules.
  • Shorter recovery time and less bleeding than open surgery
  • Little to no pain is experienced during the procedure
  • No systemic side effects
  • Destroys diseased cells without damaging surrounding healthy tissue


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