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Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses radio waves to destroy cancer cells by heating them to high temperatures. It may be used if someone has previously had surgery or if they’re not fit enough to have surgery.
A sedative drug is given to make you feel drowsy and a local anaesthetic is used to numb the skin of your abdomen. Sometimes RFA is given using a general anaesthetic.
A fine needle is inserted through the skin over the liver and into the centre of each tumour. RFA is usually given using guidance from a CT scan or ultrasound to make sure the needles go into the right place. Radio waves are passed through the needles and into the tumours. These heat the cancer cells and destroy them.
This technique takes about 30 minutes and can be used to treat tumours up to 5cm (2in) in size. Usually a person is able to go home a few hours after they’ve had the treatment.
Side effects of the treatment may include bleeding, so you may need to have a blood transfusion. Very occasionally, the gall bladder or bile duct may be damaged during the procedure.
Your specialist can give you more information about the possible benefits and risks of this procedure.
For this treatment, the surgeon uses radio waves to destroy cancer cells in much the same way as RFA. However, after the RFA has destroyed the cancer and the liver tissue around it, the surgeon removes the dead tissue.
Radiofrequency-assisted surgery is done to try and reduce the amount of bleeding that can sometimes happen after a standard operation to remove liver tumours. Heating the tissues seals blood vessels and helps to stop bleeding.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)| has produced guidance on this procedure. The guidance states that radiofrequency-assisted surgery appears safe, but there is a higher risk of infection and not enough evidence to recommend it over any other way of removing liver tumours.
Your doctor or specialist nurse can discuss this type of surgery with you.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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