In cancer treatment, doctors may use other ablative techniques (methods of removing or destroying tissue) along with or instead of surgery done with a scalpel.
A laser can be used to cut through tissue or vaporize (burn) cancers, destroying the cells. A carbon dioxide laser produces a beam of infrared light, which can ablate tumors or cells that have undergone precancerous changes. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) gynecologic oncologists use this minimally invasive technique to treat certain cancers of the female reproductive system. UW Medicine head and neck surgeons use it to ablate precancerous lesions and early cancers in the mouth and throat and to remove certain cancers in the larynx, providing better voice and swallowing outcomes and quicker recovery than open surgery.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat to kill cells. It’s particularly useful against cancers that are difficult to remove surgically. Most often, this treatment is used for liver tumors and some lung tumors. A needle-like probe is inserted into the tumor. An ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to guide the probe to the right place. Then an electrical 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 tumor (percutaneous RFA, done by an interventional radiologist), or it can be inserted into a tumor during open, laparoscopic, or thoracoscopic surgery (by the surgeon).
Irreversible electroporation (NanoKnife)
Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a new tumor ablation technique that uses electrical currents to open the membrane around a cancer cell, destroying the cell without harming the surrounding tissue. IRE provides a way to treat liver tumors that are close to other vital organs and structures and that cannot be removed surgically or be destroyed safely using RFA. Needle-like NanoKnife probes are inserted into the tumor. An ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI is used to guide the probes to the right place. Then micropulses of electrical current are sent through the probes, causing the cell membranes to open, leading to the cells’ death. The probes can be passed through the skin, or they can be inserted into a tumor during surgery.
Argon beam coagulation
An argon beam coagulator is a device that uses electrical current passed through a stream of argon gas to destroy tissue. At SCCA, physicians use this device to treat ovarian cancer and to stop blood loss during surgery.