Radiofrequency ablation uses heat to destroy abnormal tissue.
Reasons for Procedure
Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat:
- Cancerous tumors in the liver, bone, kidney, breast, lung, or adrenal gland; particularly those that have not responded, or are unlikely to respond to surgery and/or chemotherapy alone. It is often used to treat tumors that have spread.
- Cardiac arrhythmias —Irregular and/or rapid heart rhythms due to abnormal electrical conduction pathways.
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)—Condition in which enlarged areas of the prostate may be compressing the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.
- Overgrown areas of the soft palate that may be responsible for severe snoring and/or sleep apnea.
- Pain from soft tissue tumors or disease that has spread.
- Severe nerve pain.
- Varicose veins.
Radiofrequency Ablation Results
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Bruising or bleeding
- Lung collapse upon insertion of the probe—when the procedure involves the lung, liver, or upper kidney
- Blood clots or damage to heart muscle or conduction pathways after procedures on the heart
- Liver abscess
- Damage to tissue surrounding the target area
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- Bleeding problems
- Active infection
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Description of the Procedure
The probe will be inserted into or directly up against the abnormal tissue. CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI scan images may be used to help guide the probe. In some cases, once the probe is inserted, a number of electrodes will be placed into the area. This will let the doctor treat a larger area of tissue.
A small amount of heat will be introduced through the probe. The heat will destroy the abnormal tissue. The probe may be repositioned to destroy other areas of tissue.
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay
It may be possible to leave the hospital on the same day of the procedure. You may need to stay overnight for your doctor to monitor you. Speak to your doctor to see if this is an option in your case.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you've been given
- Cough, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Cancer Society
Radiology Info—The Radiological Society of North America
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Cardiac procedures and surgeries. American Heart Association website. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Cardiac-Procedures-and-Surgeries_UCM_303939_Article.jsp. Updated october 24, 2014. Accessed December 30, 2014.
Gazelle GS, Goldberg SN, et al. Tumor ablation with radio-frequency energy. Radiology. 2000;217(3):633.
Interventional radiology. The Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/sitemap/category.cfm?category=ir&bhcp=1. Accessed December 30, 2014.
Radiofrequency ablation background. National Institutes of Health website. Available at http://www.cc.nih.gov/drd/rfa/background.html. Accessed December 30, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.