Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an innovative way to treat benign and cancerous tumors. It is a medical technology that destroys tumors in a much less invasive way compared to traditional surgical removal. It can also eliminate a tumor when surgical removal is not an option and without the side effects of other techniques.

When a physician performs RFA, he or she uses an imaging guidance system such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance (MR), and places a slender probe directly into the tumor. Then a group of very thin, flexible electrodes are extended from the end of the probe into the tissue. Using a radiofrequency generator, the doctor allows a carefully-controlled amount of energy to flow through the electrodes into the tissue causing it to heat. Heating is sustained for a predetermined length of time, usually just a few minutes. Temperature is constantly monitored by tiny thermometers at the tips of the electrodes.

Upon completion of the treatment, the tumor will be destroyed and will no longer enhance on CT imaging.

Technique Types

There are several types of radiofrequency ablation treatments. Your doctor will determine the optimal treatment for you depending on the size and severity of your tumors.

  • Percutaneous: A needle-sized electrode is passed directly through the skin and guided into place. This requires only light sedation. You can usually go home the same day.
  • Laparoscopic: Several tint incisions are made, allowing the insertion of the RFA and imaging probes. This requires general anesthesia. You can usually go home the next day.
  • Open Surgery: RFA can be used during open surgery, allowing the doctor to view the tumor before and during treatment. This requires general anesthesia and a slightly longer recovery.

Benefits and Risks

Your treatment choice depends on the type and size of tumors, their number and location, the severity of the disease, and your general health. Your doctor will help you decide if RFA is a good option for you. There are many benefits and some risks to using RFA.

Benefits include:

  • Reduction of the size or elimination of tumors
  • Minimally invasive- usually done on an outpatient basis
  • Can be used on tumors up to 5 cm in size
  • Can be used repeatedly for recurring or new tumors
  • Few complications or side effects

Risks may include:

  • Low-grade fevers for a few days following the procedure
  • Very low risk of skin burns, bleeding, fluid accumulation, injury to adjacent structures and infection