Center for Thoracic Oncology
At the Center for Thoracic Oncology at Boston Medical Center, we specialize in many of the latest and most effective cancer treatments, including microwave ablation. Our team of highly trained and experienced specialists takes a collaborative approach to your treatment. We draw on medical expertise, state-of-the-art facilities, and a patient-centered environment to provide you with not only the best medicine but also the best patient care in New England.
Microwave ablation is a cancer treatment in which microwave energy is sent through a narrow, microwave antenna that has been placed inside a tumor. The microwave energy creates heat, which destroys the diseased cells and tissue. It is a newer method of treating lung cancer that can target and kill cancerous cells and relieve pain.
Systemic treatments such as chemotherapy and certain types of radiation are absorbed into both healthy and diseased tissue, whereas microwave ablation is delivered directly into a tumor, or "locally." Microwave ablation does not provide a cure, but may slow the progression and improve quality of life. This treatment may be used alone or along with surgery or other therapies; sometimes, treatment of small lesions with microwave ablation can convert a patient who was unable to have surgery beforehand to a surgical candidate.
How to Prepare
Before treatment with microwave ablation, you will have a physical examination and medical history, and your physician may order one or more of the following tests:
- Blood test
- Biopsy, where a tissue sample is removed for analysis
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Tell your doctor if you have any allergies to medication or have had problems with anesthesia. Your surgeon will give you any specific instructions about dietary or activity restrictions, and will also instruct you about whether you should take your regular medications prior to your procedure or on the day of the procedure. You also may be asked to not eat or drink after midnight on the night before your procedure. You may wish to ask a friend or family member to drive you to your procedure.
What to Expect
Microwave ablation may be performed on an outpatient basis; that is, you may not have to stay overnight. You may not need general anesthesia—a mild sedative and local anesthetic are often enough. You will be positioned on an examining table, and you will be connected to machines that monitor your heart rate and blood pressure during the procedure. A nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm to give you sedatives and other medications and fluids.
Your physician will use a CT scan to precisely locate the tumor. Once the tumor is located, the area on your chest through which the probes will be inserted will be cleaned and covered with a surgical drape. Your physician will then numb the insertion point with a local anesthetic and make a small incision and advance the antenna through the incision to the site of the tumor using CT guidance.
Once the antenna is in place, the energy source will be activated. The heat also helps close small blood vessels and lessens the risk of bleeding. After the abnormal cells are killed, they shrink and turn to scar tissue over time. Each ablation takes between 10 and 30 minutes, and the entire procedure typically takes between one and three hours. Once the ablation is complete, the probe will be removed and pressure will be applied to the insertion point to prevent bleeding.
Following your ablation procedure, you will be taken to an anesthesia recovery room where your vital signs will be monitored. In addition, you will have a chest x-ray to ensure that your lung has not collapsed from an air pocket created in the space between your lungs and chest wall (called a pneumothorax). If your physician finds a pneumothorax, which is rare but may occur during this type of procedure, you may have a tube inserted to remove the air.
Once you are stable, you may be transferred to a hospital room, where you may stay overnight. Typically patients are discharged within 24 to 48 hours after tumor ablation. Recovery is usually quick, and you should be able to resume normal activities within a few days. You may experience discomfort from the site where the ablation needle was inserted. In addition, you may experience fatigue, muscle ache, and possibly a low-grade fever (up to 102° Fahrenheit) for several days following your ablation procedure.