What is a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for liver cancer?

Radiofrequency ablation, also known as laser ablation, for liver cancer is a treatment option that destroys cancerous tissue in the liver without removing the tumor. Radiofrequency ablation uses high energy radio waves aimed directly at the liver tumor to eliminate the cancerous tissue. RFA for liver cancer typically is used to shrink the tumor or slow down the growth of the liver cancer. The procedure is performed on patients who are not candidates for a surgical resection.

Who is a candidate for a radiofrequency ablation for liver cancer

Radiofrequency ablation for liver cancer can be used in patients who:

  • Have a few small liver tumors
  • Are not in good health due to reduced liver function
  • Are waiting for a liver transplant

Radiofrequency ablation is most effective on tumors that:

  • Are no larger than 3 cm across
  • Larger tumors (3 to 5 cm across) when used as a treatment in conjunction with embolization
  • Are not near major blood vessels, the diaphragm or major bile ducts

Risks of radiofrequency ablation for liver cancer

Although risks are rare, risks associated with radiofrequency ablation for liver cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Infection in the liver
  • Bleeding in the abdomen

What to expect during radiofrequency ablation for liver cancer

RFA is typically performed in an outpatient setting. During the procedure, your surgeon will use imaging guidance to guide a probe into the tumor in the liver. When in the correct position, radiofrequency waves heat the probe to 80 to 100 degrees Celsius. The probe will stay in position for approximately 15 minutes and then be removed. Most patients who have radiofrequency laser ablation for liver cancer do not require a hospital stay.

Recovery from radiofrequency ablation for liver cancer

You may experience pain, develop a bruise or be sore at the site the probe was inserted in your body after radiofrequency ablation. These side effects are typically relieved within a few days. If you are experiencing severe pain, develop a high fever or are having abnormal symptoms, call your doctor right away.

You will need frequent follow-up visits with your doctor after the procedure to ensure the treatment was effective. Your doctor will determine the most appropriate follow-up schedule for your case.

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