Interventional Radiology
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Tumor Ablation Therapies

Radiofrequency Ablation

For inoperable tumors in the liver and elsewhere, radiofrequency ablation (RFA) offers a nonsurgical, localized treatment that kills the tumor cells with heat while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. This treatment is easier on the patient than systemic therapy or surgery. Radiofrequency ablation can be performed without affecting the patient's overall health and most people can resume their usual activities within a few days.

In this procedure, the interventional radiologist guides a needle through the skin of the sleeping patient into the tumor, using CT scan or ultrasound imaging for guidance. From the tip of the needle, radiofrequency energy (similar to microwaves) is transmitted to the surrounding tumor, where it produces enough heat to cook the tissue. The dead tumor tissue shrinks slowly and forms a scar after weeks or months. The FDA has approved RFA for the treatment of liver and other tumors.

RFA is palliative and can extend patients' lives. RFA is particularly effective for smaller tumors that can be completely and permanently eradicated. Because it is a local treatment with minimal harm to surrounding healthy tissue, the treatment can be repeated if new tumors appear. Even if a tumor can not be completely eradicated by RFA, decreasing the size of a large tumor using RFA may improve a patient's quality of life by decreasing pain and disability. It is a very safe procedure, and has been available since the 1990s.


Cryoablation is similar to RFA in that energy is delivered directly into the tumor by a needle probe that is inserted through the skin. Rather than killing the tumor with heat, cryoablation uses extreme cold to kill it by frostbite. The ice ball that is created around the needle tip freezes and destroys the tumor cells. This technique has been used for many years by surgeons in the operating room, but in the last few years, the needles have become skinny enough to be used by interventional radiologists without the need for an operation involving a large incision. Cryoablation may be used for tumors of the kidneys, lungs, and elsewhere.

Microwave Ablation

Microwave ablation, like radiofrequency ablation, kills tumors cells by heating the tissue around needles placed through the skin of a sleeping patient. Antennae that transmit microwaves are located near the tips of the needles; the microwaves heat the tissue by oscillating nearby water molecules. Microwave systems do not rely on an electric circuit and can deliver large amounts of energy quickly. This enables relatively large areas to be treated in the liver and kidneys, which have a lot of blood vessels, as well as in the lungs, which contain a lot of air.

News Release: Microwave Ablation Offers New Options for Cancer Treatment

Radiofrequency Ablation, Microwave Ablation and Cryoablation facts:

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