Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) can be used to treat small liver tumors, those less than 3 centimeters across. It is an alternative to surgically removing tumors and can be used along with other treatments. This procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist, a specially trained radiologist who uses minimally invasive image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat diseases, or by a surgeon when the tumor is not in an ideal location for a radiologist to perform the procedure.
A needle-like probe is inserted into the tumor. An ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan is used to guide the probe to the right place. Then an electromagnetic current is sent through the probe, creating heat around the end of it and destroying the cancer cells.
The probe can be passed through the skin into the liver (percutaneous RFA), or it can be inserted into the liver during open surgery (through one larger incision) or during laparoscopic surgery (through a smaller “keyhole” incision in the abdomen) or thoracoscopic surgery (through a smaller incision in the chest). The probe can be moved to different spots during the same treatment session to heat multiple tumors or to heat all areas of a tumor that’s larger than the probe’s target area.
For Seattle Cancer Care Alliance patients, RFA is performed at University of Washington Medical Center, typically as an outpatient or overnight procedure.