Center for Thoracic Oncology
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
The Center for Thoracic Oncology at Boston Medical Center is, first and foremost, here to serve you and your family. We are a team of dedicated specialists whose common goal is to treat your cancer and lead you on the path to recovery in as comfortable a way as possible. You will be treated in state-of-the-art facilities using a multidisciplinary approach. Our staff of compassionate diagnosticians, surgeons, physician assistant, nurse practitioners, and surgical nurses work as a team to provide you with the most advanced and effective medical treatment in New England—as well as unmatched patient care.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a cancer treatment in which radiofrequency energy—derived from electric and magnetic energy—is sent by means of a narrow probe that is placed in the center of a lung tumor. Surgical incisions are not required, and the probes are placed into tumors using CT scan to guide the physician.
RFA is a newer method of treating lung cancer, as well as cancers of the liver, kidney, and bone. RFA can target and kill cancerous cells sparing healthy tissues that are close to the cancer. Systemic treatments such as chemotherapy and certain types of radiation are absorbed into both healthy and diseased tissue, whereas RFA is delivered directly into a tumor.
RFA can provide a cure for small cancers limited to the lungs. It can also slow the progression of larger tumors or be used in combination with other treatments for lung cancer. RFA has a very low rate of complications and is generally well tolerated. Since RFA is a local treatment, treating only tumor that is visible, we prefer to use this for patients that are unable to tolerate more standard types of surgery.
How to Prepare
Before treatment with RFA, 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
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan
You should report on all medications you take, including prescription, over-the-counter, herbs, and supplements, and on any allergies. You will most likely be asked to avoid food and drink after midnight on the night before your scheduled procedure. Water is usually allowed up to two hours beforehand, however.
What to Expect
RFA is performed under general anesthesia and you will have to stay overnight. You may not need general anesthesia—a mild sedative and local anesthetic are often sufficient—and can resume normal activities typically within one week, as opposed to open surgery, which requires longer hospital stays, longer recovery, and more risk of infection and complications.
The RFA probe is guided by an imaging tool such as ultrasound or CT into your tumor. Once the probe is placed in the tumor, the radiofrequency energy is delivered, causing heating of the cancer and a small area of lung immediately surrounding this. Temperatures in the tumor can rise to 90° Celsius (194° Fahrenheit). Cancer cells will start to immediately die at 60° Celsius (140° Fahrenheit).
After the abnormal cells are killed, they shrink and turn to scar tissue over time. Unlike surgery where the cancer is removed, there will usually be a scar remaining in the area of the treated tumor. It is important that you continue to follow up with your physician with repeated CT scans to make sure that there is no further growth in the tumor.
Immediately after your procedure, your physician will take CT images to make sure the treatment was successful in destroying abnormal tissue. You will usually be discharged home the next morning, and you should be able to resume normal activities within the week. Minor complications may include:
- Low-grade fever
Call us if you notice these symptoms or anything else that concerns you, or if you have trouble breathing.