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Percutaneous radiofrequency ablation, cryotherapy or high intensity focused ultrasound can be used to treat kidney cancers which are 2–3cm in size. These treatments are still being researched, but so far they appear to be as effective as surgery.
They avoid the need to remove some, or all, of the kidney with an operation and may be suitable for people with smaller kidney tumours (stage T1a|) who aren’t fit enough to have conventional surgery| or who choose not to have it. They tend to cause fewer side effects and have quicker recovery times than standard operations for kidney cancer.
They may also be used to treat people who have a rare inherited form of kidney cancer and who have multiple tumours or cancer affecting both kidneys.
This uses heat to destroy the cancer cells and may need to be done more than once. You’ll be given a sedative drug before the treatment to make you feel drowsy and a local anaesthetic to numb the area over the kidney. Pictures produced by an ultrasound scanner help the surgeon to see the area of the kidney that needs treatment.
The surgeon places one or more needle-like electrodes through the skin into the centre of the tumour. An electrical current is then passed through the electrodes into the tumour. This heats the cancer cells and destroys them.
RFA generally has fewer side effects than a kidney operation. They may include pain in the kidney area, bleeding and infection. In a small number of people, the treatment may cause a blockage in the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder (ureter|), or damage to the bowel.
Cryotherapy uses very cold temperatures to destroy the cancer cells. It’s usually carried out under general anaesthetic. The surgeon places one or more probes into the centre of the tumour. A coolant is passed through the probes. This freezes and destroys the cancer cells and a small area (about 1cm) of healthy tissue around them.
Side effects after the treatment are generally less severe than for a kidney operation. They may include pain in the kidney area, bleeding and infection. In a small number of people the treatment may cause a blockage in the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder (ureter), or damage to the bowel.
This is a newer treatment which uses high-energy, high-frequency focused sound waves to produce high temperatures inside the tumour cells and destroy them. As it has been used less often for kidney cancer than cryotherapy or RFA, we know less about how effective it is. It may be carried out under a local or general anaesthetic.
Side effects of this treatment are generally less severe than for surgery. They may include pain in the kidney area, bleeding and infection. The treatment may need to be done more than once.
Content last reviewed: 1 July 2010
Next planned review: 2013
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