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 healthy tissue.

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 surgery.

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, chemotherapy, and 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.