Radiofrequency Ablation of Liver Tumors

What is Radiofrequency Ablation of Liver Tumors?

Radiofrequency ablation, referred to as RFA, is a minimally invasive treatment for cancer.  During an RFA an Interventional Radiologist uses imaging techniques such as ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) to guide a special needle to the tumor location.  Electrical currents are then passed through the needle to destroy the abnormal cells, sparing the healthy liver tissue.

How is the Procedure Performed?

At Tufts Medical Center in Boston, RFA of liver tumors is performed by a specially trained radiologist in the Interventional Radiology department. The procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis and often you will be discharged home following a recovery period.  The procedure is performed under general anesthesia, so you will be asleep.  Once you are anesthetized and positioned on the procedure table the area where the physician will insert the electrodes will be cleansed to sterilize the skin.  Your physician will then numb the skin and make a small nick where the electrode will be inserted.  The physician will use ultrasound and CT to guide the needle electrode to the site of the tumor.  The tumor can then be treated with radiofrequency current, destroying the cancerous cells.  Once the radiologist has treated all of the tumors the electrode is removed and a bandage is applied to the site.

What Should I Expect After the Procedure?

At the completion of the procedure you will be monitored in the recovery room for approximately 4 hours.  You may experience some discomfort after the procedure which will be controlled with pain medications given to you through either your intravenous or by mouth.  After you have completely recovered from the procedure and anesthesia you will be discharged home with a friend or family member.  It is expected that you will be able to return to normal activity within a few days after your RFA. 

What are the Risks of RFA?

  • Infection
  • Pain – often in the shoulder
  • “Post Ablation Syndrome” – flu-like symptoms occurring 3-5 days after the procedure
  • Bleeding
  • Injury to the Organs and Tissues near the Liver