Many methods of minimally invasive therapy have been tried in recent years to eliminate primary and secondary malignant tumors in major organs like the liver, lung, bone, spleen and kidney. One of the most promising therapies is radiofrequency ablation (RFA), and Lifebridge Health is using RFA to eliminate these tumors and help patients control pain caused by these malignancies.
Under the guidance of an imaging method such as ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scanning, a special needle electrode (either straight or umbrella-shaped) is placed in the tumor. A radiofrequency current passes through the electrode to heat the tumor tissue near the needle tip to eliminate the tumor.
Some of the main targets for RFA are hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a primary liver cancer, and colon cancer that has spread to the liver. Additionally, Lifebridge Health is involved in a clinical trial to study the effectiveness of RFA in treating bone tumors, and has performed clinical trials of RFA for lung cancer. In the last few years, LifeBridge Health physicians have used RFA to treat kidney tumors.
Many patients with malignant liver tumors are not good candidates for surgery because their tumors are widespread or cannot be surgically removed, or because other medical conditions such as poor heart or pulmonary functions make surgery risky. In other cases, so much liver tissue would have to be surgically removed with the tumor that the liver could no longer function properly.
RFA is also an effective modality for patients with a variety of tumors when the tumors metastasize to bone. For patients who have failed radiation or are not candidates for surgery because the tumor is in a difficult location like the pelvis, RFA may control the tumor and reduce pain. There is currently a national multicenter study to better understand RFA’s effectiveness.
All patients undergo imaging prior to the procedure. During the RFA treatment, a patient rests on the examining table, the tumor is located through imaging, and local anesthesia is given to avoid discomfort during the procedure. Needle selection and the intensity of the ablation depend on the size and location of the tumor. Each RFA treatment takes 12 to 30 minutes, and the total procedure is completed in one to three hours.
For some cancer patients, RFA is used to treat large tumors, so chemotherapy will be more effective. For metastatic, nonoperable disease, RFA offers symptomatic relief as patients start a new chemotherapy protocol.