Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) offers a nonsurgical, localized treatment that kills the tumor cells with heat, while sparing nearby healthy lung tissue.

Thus, this treatment is much easier on the patient than systemic therapy. Radiofrequency energy can be given without affecting the patient’s overall health and most people can resume their usual activities in a few days. It is a safe, minimally invasive tool for local pulmonary tumor control with negligible mortality, little morbidity, short hospital stay, and positive gain in quality of life.

In this procedure, the interventional radiologist guides a small needle through the skin into the tumor. From the tip of the needle, radiofrequency energy (similar to microwaves) is transmitted to the tip of the needle, where it produces heat in the tissues. The dead tumor tissue shrinks and slowly forms a scar. It is ideal for nonsurgical candidates and those with smaller tumors. The FDA has approved RFA for the treatment of tumors in soft tissue that includes the lung.

Efficacy of RFA

Depending on the size of the tumor, RFA can shrink or kill the tumor. Because it is a local treatment that does not harm much healthy tissue, the treatment can be repeated as often as needed to keep patients comfortable. It is a relatively safe procedure, with low complication rates.

By decreasing the size of a large mass, or treating new tumors in the lung as they arise, the pain and other debilitating symptoms caused by the tumors are often relieved. While the tumors themselves may not be painful, when they press against nerves or interfere with vital organs, they can cause pain. RFA is effective for small to medium-sized tumors and emerging new technologies should allow the treatment of larger cancers in the future. RFA is a new treatment that has shown early, promising results, but long-term studies have not yet been completed.


  • Is most effective when all the cancer is localized in the lung
  • Can be used to treat primary lung cancer and tumors that have metastasized (spread) from other areas in the body to the lung
  • Usually does not require general anesthesia
  • Relatively low cost
  • Is well tolerated. Most patients can resume their normal routine the next day and may feel tired for a few days.
  • It can be repeated if necessary
  • It may be combined with other treatment options
  • It can relieve pain and suffering for many cancer patients
  • It has a short hospital stay
  • It has few complications

Are there any side effects or complications?

Radiofrequency ablation is safe and effective and may be repeated multiple times. Remember that the procedure only kills the tumor. Your remaining normal liver or kidney are not affected. Some patients have soreness or fever for a day or two afterward. These symptoms are easily treated with medication. Serious complications are rare, and occur in about one in a 100 procedures.

Procedure at Northside

Prior to RFA, every patient needs to have a CT or MRI within the last few months. At the time of the consultation the patient will meet with the Interventional Radiologist who is to perform the procedure and the nurse coordinator that will help guide the patient through the therapy process. At this time any questions about the procedure and what to expect will be answered. In addition, we will use this time to obtain pertinent medical history information that is related to the RFA. This usually lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour.

Evening prior to procedure and Procedure Day

The evening before the exam you may not eat or drink anything (NPO). You will arrive at the Hospital early in the morning. Once at the Hospital you will receive an intravenous (IV) line, placed in your arm, which allows fluids to drip into your body. These fluids consist of antibiotics and other medications that are needed prior to your RFA procedure.

You will then be sent to the CT suite for the procedure.

Once this is completed, you are sent to your room where you will lie flat in bed for four to six hours. More IV fluids are given to you overnight. Most patients are discharged from the hospital the following day.

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