Patient Information: Frequently Asked Questions

September 9, 2007

What Is Tumor Ablation?
Tumor ablation therapies are a method of targeting and destroying a tumor from the inside out. The most common type of tumor ablation is radiofrequency ablation (RFA).

What Is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation uses radio waves to destroy a tumor. The radio waves cause friction, which heats and kills the surrounding tissue.

How Does RFA Work?
RFA uses a needle electrode with an insulated shaft and an uninsulated or “live” tip to heat the tissue. Your doctor will use grounding pads to turn your body into an electrical circuit. A needle electrode inserted under the skin will be guided to the tumor, using imaging technology such as CT or ultrasound. When the needle electrode is positioned inside the tumor, your doctor will use a generator to cause it to emit radio waves, which heat and kill the tumor from the inside out. The dead tumor is not removed-it will gradually shrink and be replaced by scar tissue.

Who Can Benefit from RFA?
Most patients can benefit from RFA, including:
• Patients who are too frail to withstand surgery
• Patients taking blood thinners or who otherwise face an increased risk of blood loss
• Patients with compromised immune systems
• Patients whose tumors are located in a place that makes surgery impossible or their removal would destroy too much healthy tissue.


Is RFA Experimental?
RFA has been used to treat benign bone tumors and some heart problems for more than 20 years. The procedure has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of liver tumors since 1996.

Is RFA a Cure for Cancer?
No, but RFA can reduce the size of some tumors or completely eliminate them, increasing survivability rates in many instances. In other cases, RFA is used primarily to eliminate painful tumors and improve a patient’s quality of life.

What Types of Cancer Can Be Treated With RFA?
RFA can be used to treat tumors of the
• Liver
• Kidney
• Breast
• Lung
• Prostate
• Adrenal glands
• Bone

RFA has been most often used to treat liver tumors. Other treatments show promise but do not yet have studies proving long-term results.

Is RFA Dangerous?
All medical procedures carry risks. However, RFA tends to be less dangerous than surgery, because it is minimally invasive-only a needle electrode is inserted under the skin-and it can be performed under local anesthesia.

The risks associated with RFA include
• Pain
• Bleeding
• Bruising
• Infection
• Fever

Depending on the site of the ablation, some patients are at increased risk of lung collapse.

Is RFA Covered by Insurance?
Many insurance providers, although not all, do cover the use of RFA to treat some soft-tissue and bone tumors.