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Tumor Ablation

What is Cancer Ablation?

This is a minimally invasive surgical method to treat solid cancers. Special probes are used to “burn” or “freeze” cancers without the usual surgery. Computed Tomography (CT), Ultrasound (US) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is used to guide and position the needle probe into the tumor. This requires only a tiny hole, usually less than 3 mm via which the probe is introduced. When the probe is within the cancer it is attached to a generator which “burns” or “freezes” the cancer.

How well does it work?

The effectiveness of this new technique in treating cancer depends on two things:

  • The size of the tumor
  • Its accessibility to the probes

In general, for cancers 3 cm or less and easily accessible percutaneously the aim is to completely kill the cancer. The larger the tumor the more difficult it is to achieve compete cancer death, therefore early treatment is crucial.

Which tumors can be treated this way?

The most common cancers treated by this method are lung cancer, liver cancer and kidney (renal) cancer. Other cancers can also be treated provided they are accessible and of appropriate size.

What does “burning” or “freezing” the cancer mean?

Lung cancer ablation"Burn” probe with tip in lung cancer

“Burning” refers to increasing the temperature of the tumor to such a level that cancer cells die. This is usually achieved by radio frequency probes, referring to the type of energy used to increase the temperature. “Freezing” refers to cryoablation which decreases the temperature to -40 C (-40 F) which also kills the cancer cells.

How is the procedure performed and what are the risks?

Most patients have this procedure without anesthesia, only conscious sedation. More than 90% of patients are released from the hospital the day after the procedure. Possible complications depend on the organ treated and include bleeding, infection, collapsed lung. The rate of serious complications from this procedure is below 5%.

What if it does not work?

If the cancer is large or difficult to reach then this method may not kill all of it. Even then, the patient can have any other treatment they are eligible, for example, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation etc. Having this procedure does not prevent patients from having other forms of treatment.

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