Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) has been used in medical procedures for many years. As the name suggests,
RFA utilizes the electrical energy of radiofrequency waves to generate
heat. This heat is then directed at a specific location, such as a tumor.
During this procedure a surgeon places a catheter probe directly into the
affected tissue. The probe emits electrodes that agitate the tissue, causing
friction and consequently heat. For a three cm. area, the probe is raised
to a temperature of approximately 113° F (50° C), and is usually
administered for approximately 10-15 minutes. Heating the tissue is an
effective means of killing the unwanted cells and has less than a 4% rate
of complication (such as infection, bleeding, lung collapse, abnormal
heart rhythms, and skin burn).
The size of the probe and the duration of the procedure determine the amount
of tissue that will be heated and effectively killed. Because the heat
does not travel far from the probe, this procedure is able to kill the
unwanted tissue quite accurately without sacrificing much of the surrounding
An RFA treatment can be administered in several different ways. The least
invasive method is a
percutaneous approach where the surgeon uses an ultrasound to guide the needle through the skin
to the tumor where the heat is applied. Using this method, general anesthesia
is usually unnecessary, but patients are typically sedated. Patients might
feel some discomfort or pain during this procedure but can often go home
the same day.
Another minimally invasive approach is a
laparoscopic procedure. The surgeon makes a few small incisions and inserts the probe into the
affected area using intraoperative ultrasound so that the surgeon can
better visualize the tissue and treat it more effectively. Patients are
put under general anesthesia and typically go home the next day.
The more invasive
"open" approach requires the surgeon to make a larger incision to see the area and then
apply the RFA treatment. Recovery period for this type of procedure is
usually longer and patients may develop a slight fever for two to three
days following the
RFA is widely used in many cancer treatments and can be a good alternative
for patients who do not qualify for surgical resection or who have multiple
tumors that are relatively small. Additionally, patients with widespread
tumors can become candidates for surgical resection after receiving the
RFA to reduce tumor spread. RFA can easily be added to any other treatment
plan such as surgery,
radiation and can be used to treat recurring tumors, as well. Pain palliation may
be another benefit of RFA. Patients with soft tissue tumors who have not
responded to pain medication may benefit from this treatment.