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Cancer Treatment-Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), is a minimally invasive treatment for cancer. It is an image-guided technique that heats and destroys cancer cells. In radiofrequency ablation, imaging techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are used to help guide a needle electrode into a cancerous tumor. High-frequency electrical currents are then passed through the electrode, creating heat that destroys the abnormal cells.

Your doctor may recommend a Radiofrequency Ablation when treating tumors that are less than one and a half inches in diameter. It may be used in addition to chemotherapy or radiation therapy or as an alternative to surgical treatment.

Radiofrequency ablation is a viable and effective treatment option if you:

  • Are not a good candidate for surgery because your tumor is difficult to reach.
  • Have other medical conditions that make surgery especially risky.
  • Would not have enough liver tissue left for the organ to function adequately following the surgical removal of a tumor.
  • Have liver tumors that have not responded to chemotherapy or that have recurred after being removed surgically.
  • You have several small liver tumors that are too spread out to be removed surgically.

Prior to your procedure, your blood may be tested to determine how well your liver and kidneys are functioning and whether your blood clots normally. You may be instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure. Your doctor will tell you which medications you may take in the morning. You should plan to have a relative or friend drive you home after your procedure. You may be asked to wear a gown during the procedure.

The equipment used in this procedure depends on the type of imaging used-magnetic resonance (MR), computed tomography (CT), or ultrasound. Other equipment such as needle electrodes, an electrical generator and grounding pads may also be used.

Radiofrequency equipment

There are two types of needle electrodes: simple straight needles and a straight, hollow needle that contains several retractable electrodes that extend when needed. The radiofrequency generator produces electrical currents in the range of radiofrequency waves. It is connected by insulated wires to the needle electrodes and to grounding pads that are placed on the patient's back or thigh.

The computer workstation that processes the imaging information is located in a separate room than the scanner. Other equipment that may be used during the procedure includes an intravenous line (IV) and equipment that monitors your heart rate and blood pressure.

Radiofrequency ablation works by passing electrical currents in the range of radiofrequency waves between the needle electrode and the grounding pads placed on the patient's skin. These currents create heat around the electrode, which when directed into the tumor, heats and destroys the cancer cells. At the same time, heat from radiofrequency energy closes small blood vessels and lessens the risk of bleeding. The dead tumor cells are gradually replaced by scar tissue that shrinks over time. Ultrasound, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging may be used to help the physician guide the needle electrode into the tumor. The entire procedure is usually completed within one to three hours.

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