Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) of the Liver

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)
    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Bhupinder S. Anand, MBBS, MD, DPHIL (OXON)

    Dr. Anand received MBBS degree from Medical College Amritsar, University of Punjab. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at the Postgraduate Institute of medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. He was trained in the field of Gastroenterology and obtained the DPhil degree. Dr. Anand is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.

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What size tumor is treated by radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?

The maximum size for a liver tumor to be treated by ablation has not been established. However, radiofrequency ablation is best suited for tumors less than 5 cm. Larger tumors may require more than one session.

How do I prepare for radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?

Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. You may be advised to stop taking blood-thinner medications before the procedure and not to drink or eat anything for some hours beforehand. Depending on the type of radiofrequency ablation that is done, and whether or not anesthesia is required, you may be able to return home after the procedure, or you may remain overnight in the hospital.

What kind of equipment is used for radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?

Imaging procedures like CT (computed tomography) scan, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are used to help guide the probe into the area of the tumor. The probe is designed like a long needle electrode through which a high-frequency electrical current is passed.

How does the radiofrequency ablation (RFA) procedure work?

Radiofrequency ablation can be performed in different ways. It may be administered during open surgery, laparoscopic surgery, or percutaneously (through the skin) using imaging studies to guide the placement of the probe. Interventional radiologists are the doctors who most commonly perform RFA through the skin, while surgeons may perform RFA during laparoscopic or open surgeries.

In all cases of radiofrequency ablation, a probe is inserted into the center of the tumor and the non-insulated electrodes, which are shaped like prongs, are projected out from the central probe into the tumor. The local heat that is generated melts the tissue (in a process known as coagulative necrosis) that is adjacent to the probe. The probe is left in place for about 10 to 15 minutes. For larger tumors it might be necessary to re-position the probe in different areas of the tumor. Imaging studies are done anywhere from a few hours to weeks after the procedure to ensure that the entire tumor tissue has been cauterized.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/3/2016

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