What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?
For inoperable tumors, radiofrequency ablation (RFA) offers a nonsurgical, localized treatment that kills the tumor cells with heat, while sparing the healthy tissue. Many tumors including liver, lung, kidney and bone can be treated with RFA. In this procedure, the interventional radiologist guides (using imaging guidance) a small needle through the skin into the tumor. From the tip of the needle, radiofrequency energy (similar to microwaves) is transmitted to the tip of the needle, where it produces heat in the tissues. The dead tumor tissue shrinks and slowly forms a scar. This is typically performed under general anesthesia or conscious sedation. Patients usually are admitted for overnight observation and sent home the next day.
Most patients may experience some mild pain and discomfort at the insertion site, fatigue, and occasionally 24-48 hrs but generally resume normal activities within 72 hrs.
In a small number of cases, RFA can extend patient’s lives, but it is generally palliative. Depending on the size of the tumor, RFA can shrink or kill the tumor, extending the patient’s survival time and greatly improving their quality of life while living with cancer.
Because it is a local treatment that does not harm healthy tissue, the treatment can be repeated as often as needed to keep patient’s comfortable. It is a very safe procedure, with complication rates on the order of 2-3 percent, and has been available since the late 1990’s.