March 17, 2003
Radiofrequency Ablation: A New Revolution in the Treatment of Cancer
Jason R. Williams MD
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a therapy that is gaining significant ground in the treatment of cancer. The technique involves inserting a needle under the guidance of computed tomography (CT). The needle is placed directly into the tumor. A radiofrequency is then sent through the needle. This RF energy generates heat, which destroys the tumor. There is no radiation involved, except for that from the CT scanner. Some patients can go home the same day of treatment. Most patients will be observed overnight.
There are many tumors which can be treated successfully with RFA. Liver tumors are the most common. However, RFA is now being performed in other areas of the body, such as the lungs, bones, and adrenal glands. This offers a new treatment modality for a large number of cancer patients.
The Treatment of Lung Tumors
There are many types of cancers that are found in the lungs. The most common group of tumors that originate here are the non-small cell type. The surgical resection of tumors generally gives the patient the best hope for successful treatment. However, surgery is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. For this reason the majority of the patients diagnosed with lung cancer are not considered surgical candidates.
RFA can be used to treat many tumors which cannot be removed surgically. Patients may also consider RFA instead of an invasive surgery. The recovery time is less, allowing patients to aggressively continue chemotherapy.
Metastatic Cancer to the Lungs
Many types of tumors frequently spread to the lungs. This commonly occurs in breast and colon cancer. The development of tumor metastasis to the lungs is also a common problem for patients with sarcomas. When the cancer spreads to the lungs, the prognosis is not good. Metastatic tumors to the lung can be treated with RFA in the same manner as primary lung tumors.
Radiofrequency ablation has been successfully used for many years in the treatment of liver tumors. This includes primary (tumors that originated in the liver), and metastatic tumors (tumors that have spread to the liver). Patients treated with RFA recover much faster than patients treated with a surgical resection. This success prompted the FDA to approve the use of RFA for these tumors.
RFA can be used in the treatment of certain bone tumors. This is particularly helpful in relieving painful tumors. RFA can also be used to successfully treat some tumors of the kidneys and adrenal glands. Tumors located in the retroperitoneal area (such as some sarcomas) can be treated with RFA as well.
Overview of RFA of Cancer
Radiofrequency ablation is an effective treatment for many types of tumors, particularly in the lung and liver. Because of this success, RFA is no longer considered an experimental therapy.
The treatment is quick and minimally invasive. The complication rate is significantly less than that of surgery. With a simple needle stick, all or a large amount of tumor can be destroyed using RFA. The procedure is similar to a biopsy.
The treatment can be done using IV sedation only. The recovery time is quick, thus allowing patients to feel well enough to immediately begin chemotherapy. Patients may even have RFA while actively receiving chemotherapy. RFA does not interfere with most standard cancer therapies. Most insurance companies provide coverage for the procedure, and most patients will require only an overnight stay in the hospital.
In cases where the tumors cannot be entirely ablated, there is still improvement in the patient's prognosis because of reduced tumor burden. The RFA treatment can add a significant length of time to the patient's life. In some patients it is possible to ablate all visible tumor. These patients can potentially obtain a cure, when there would have otherwise been little hope.
Jason R. Williams M.D.
The American Institute for Cancer Ablation
Gulf Shores, Alabama