What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive treatment technique that uses radio waves to heat and kill abnormal cells.  It can be used to treat tumors, including breast, bone, kidney, liver, lung, and prostate cancer.

Radiofrequency ablation allows doctors to treat multiple tumors at one time, eradicate cancerous and pre-cancerous cells that are buried deep within tissue, or treat cells located in difficult-to-access parts of the body. It can be used instead of or in addition to surgery.

Radiofrequency ablation is a type of thermal ablation. It is similar to microwave ablation, but it uses a different type of energy to heat targeted tissues. Because different types of thermal energy move through the body in different ways, doctors can select the most appropriate type of thermal ablation for particular tumors and patient needs. 

How is radiofrequency ablation performed?

During radiofrequency ablation, an interventional radiologist uses imaging technology like a CT scan or ultrasound to guide a thin needle equipped with an electrode into the affected area of the body. The electrode emits controlled currents of energy onto a small area of tissue, generating heat and killing targeted cells. Eventually, the affected tissue falls away and is replaced by healthy cells.

Some patients may require more than one radiofrequency ablation treatment.

What should I expect before, during, and after treatment?

Before you begin radiofrequency ablation treatment, your doctor will talk with you about anything that you may need to do to prepare for the procedure. For instance, your doctor may make changes to your medication schedule or ask you to fast.

Radiofrequency ablation is typically an outpatient procedure, but some patients may need to stay in the hospital overnight. The treatment takes 1-4 hours. During the treatment, you may be put under general anesthesia or sedation

Your care team will give you individualized instruction about post-treatment procedures to follow.

What are the risks and benefits of radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation is generally very well-tolerated by patients, and most do not experience any significant side effects. Rare side effects include soreness, bleeding, infection, or rib fractures.

RFA is a minimally-invasive procedure that is performed through a small, pin-hole sized incision. When appropriate for a patient’s health needs, minimally-invasive techniques can promote faster recovery time and reduce risks of complications.

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