What is tumor ablation?

These procedures are done percutaneously through a small hole the size of a pen tip, often with sedation and local anesthesia. Tumor ablation can be divided into four types: radiofrequency ablation (RFA), microwave ablation (MWA), cryoablation, and percutaneous ethanol ablation (PEI).

What are the different types of tumor ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses a high-frequency electrical wave delivered through a probe the size of a long pencil to heat and "burn" the tumor. Only the tumor is treated while surrounding healthy tissue is preserved. CT or ultrasound imaging is used to insert the probe into the tumor and kill the cancer cells in as little as 30 minutes.

Microwave ablation (MWA) is another technique that uses microwaves, delivered via a small antenna inserted directly into the tumor. MWA heats or burns the tumor within minutes and is much faster than RFA, although both have similar results.

Cryoablation uses liquid nitrogen or argon gas to freeze tumor cells, which then rupture from the cold temperature and die. Cryoablation is often used to treat kidney tumors, and it is able to kill cancer cells without damaging or affecting kidney function. It is often used in patients with a single kidney or in those with decreased kidney function who might otherwise end up on dialysis if surgery is performed.

Percutaneous ethanol ablation (PEI) or alcohol ablation uses absolute ethanol injected directly into the tumor to kill cancer cells. Because alcohol is a very potent toxin to cancer cells and the blood vessels within the tumor, alcohol ablation can be quite effective in treating small tumors. Because there are more advanced techniques such as microwave and cryoablation, PEI is used less as it often causes more discomfort than the other tumor ablation options.

What types of cancer can be treated with tumor ablation?

Several types of cancer can be treated with tumor ablation including liver, kidney, and lung cancer. Patients with cancer that has started in another part of the body and has spread (metastasized) to the liver, lung, and kidney may also be candidates for tumor ablation. In addition, patients with metastatic bone lesions that are causing pain may also benefit from tumor ablation.

Is tumor ablation a cure for my cancer and is it better than surgery?

In general, tumor ablation is used either by itself or in conjunction with other image-guided procedures that we offer to treat your cancer. Tumor ablation is considered palliative and may dramatically shrink your tumor. However, depending on the size of your tumor, tumor ablation can be curative, especially for tumors that are 3 cm or less in diameter. In fact, in some studies, tumor ablation is almost equal to surgical resection of a tumor. Your Interventional Radiologist will discuss the best treatment option and whether tumor ablation is right for you.

I have been told that I am too sick for surgery. Can I still have tumor ablation?

Many patients that undergo tumor ablation often have other medical problems that would make them high risk for surgery. The advantage of tumor ablation is that there are no large incisions and thus not a long recovery time. In fact, most patients who undergo tumor ablation go home the same day.

Are there any side effects with tumor ablation?

All of the tumor ablation modalities are safe and effective and may be repeated multiple times. Some patients may experience flu-like symptoms and some soreness for a few days after the procedure. These symptoms are easily treated with medication. Serious complications are rare and occur in approximately 1 percent of patients.

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