Radiofrequency Ablation

What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) of Tumors?

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) of tumors is a minimally-invasive procedure used by our musculoskeletal radiologists to treat small bone tumors. During an RFA a musculoskeletal radiologist uses a CT scanner--a high-tech version of an X-ray--to locate a tumor and then guide a specialized needle-like probe into it. A radiofrequency current then is passed through the electrode to heat the tumor tissue near the needle tip and ablate or eliminate it. The heat from radiofrequency energy also closes up small blood vessels, thereby minimizing the risk of bleeding. Studies have shown that tumor cells can be killed if they are brought to a temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Does the Procedure Work?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) works by passing electrical current in the range of radio waves between a needle electrode positioned in the tumor and grounding pads placed on the patient's skin. The radiofrequency current produces a high level of heat within the tumor tissue surrounding the electrode. Correct settings ensure that the heat will destroy all the tumor tissue but very little of the surrounding normal lung tissue. When done properly, RFA can destroy a tumor along with a thin rim of normal tissue at its edges without affecting most normal lung tissue. Scar tissue replaces the dead tumor cells and shrinks over time.

How is the Procedure Performed?

The first step in radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is to precisely locate the tumor with CT scanning. You will receive sedation through an intravenous (IV) line placed in an arm vein. The skin is marked at the proper site for the procedure and, after cleaning the area with a solution, a local anesthetic is injected into the skin. A tiny incision measuring about one-quarter inch is made and the radiofrequency electrode is advanced into the tumor. The electrode is connected to the electrical generator and radiofrequency energy is applied for a varying time depending on the size of the tumor. If a large tumor is present, it may be necessary to do multiple ablations to be sure that no living tumor tissue is left behind. After treatment is completed the needle electrode is withdrawn. A bandage is applied over the skin incision.

What Will I Experience During the Procedure?

Radiofrequency ablation is generally performed in a room devoted to CT or ultrasound imaging. After you lie down on the examining table, the tumor will be located and you will receive intravenous sedation (through a tube previously placed in an arm vein) to avoid discomfort during the procedure. You may or may not remain awake, depending on how deeply you are sedated. The skin area where the needle passes through will be numbed with local anesthetic to further decrease discomfort. Each radiofrequency ablation treatment takes about 12 to 30 minutes and the total procedure will be completed in one to three hours, depending on how many tumor sites have to be treated.

What are Some Advantages of RFA?

Some advantages of radiofrequency tumor ablation include:

  • Effective treatment for small cancers
  • Minimally invasive with no skin incision
  • Minimal risk to patient
  • Typically little or no pain
  • Short hospital stay
  • The procedure can be repeated if new cancer appears

The S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center provides a full range of advanced imaging, both radiology and cardiology, as well as interventional radiology and interventional tumor (oncology) treatments to the greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, Encino, Mid-Cities, Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake, Studio City, Toluca Lake and West Hollywood.