11 Microwave or Radiofrequency Ablation of Tumors

Ablation uses extreme temperatures to destroy tumors. Ablative therapies include radiofrequency ablation, microwave ablation, and cryotherapy.
Ablation procedures are minimally invasive treatments in which a thin, needle-like probe is inserted through the skin into a small tumor, usually in the liver, kidney, or lung. The probe must be able to reach the tumor directly. Interventionalists use ultrasound, CT, or MRI to guide the probe into the tumor. Once in place, the probe emits microwaves, or high-energy radio waves, through its tip to “heat” and kill the tumor. For cryoablation, cold gases (for example, liquid nitrogen or argon) flow through the probe to form a ball of ice crystals at its tip to surround and “freeze” the tumor.

What happens during an ablation procedure?

You will have already discussed the treatment options with the physician doing the procedure. Prior to your procedure, we’ll take you to a preparation area where our nurses will start an IV in your arm and give you any medication that may be required prior to your procedure.

When it’s time to begin, we’ll take you to either the CT scanner area or a special room that is similar to an operating room. We often use conscious sedation, or moderate anesthesia, during the ablation procedure. In this case, you’ll remain slightly awake throughout the procedure. We will monitor your pulse, blood pressure, and your breathing throughout the procedure.

During the procedure, you’ll lie on your back or your stomach and we’ll clean the area where the needle will later enter your body using a special solution to minimize infection. We’ll place sterile drapes over your body and the interventionalist will inject a local anesthetic so you don’t feel any pain.

Using some type of guidance (usually CT) our interventionalist will carefully insert a special needle/probe into the lesion to be treated. We’ll hook up special cables and a special machine to the needle. These will create the heat necessary to destroy the tumor. The needle may have to be placed into the lesion more than one time to completely kill the tumor.

After your procedure, your interventionalist will review the results of your ablation procedure with you and your physician so he or she can discuss the next steps with you.