Tumour ablation

Tumour ablation means destroying the tumour (cancer). It is sometimes used to treat cancers smaller than 4cm (T1a N0 M0), instead of an operation.

This treatment may be used if you have a small tumour, but aren’t fit enough to have surgery or choose not to have it.

Tumour ablation preserves more of the kidney than kidney sparing surgery. So it may be used for people who have only one kidney. It can also be an option for people who have an inherited form of kidney cancer that causes multiple tumours or if cancer is affecting both kidneys.

Tumour ablation generally causes fewer side effects and has a quicker recovery time than standard operations for kidney cancer. But, there is a slightly higher risk of some cancer remaining in the kidney. The benefits of avoiding surgery and sparing more of the kidney need to be balanced against this risk. Your kidney cancer specialist will talk this through with you if you are offered this treatment.

There are different methods for destroying the tumour. The two most commonly used treatments are:

  • radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – uses high temperatures to destroy the tumour 
  • cryotherapy – uses freezing temperatures to destroy the tumour. 

Other methods of tumour ablation may be used in clinical trials. These include: microwave ablation, laser ablation and high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU).

How tumour ablation is done

The doctor or nurse will give you a sedative drug before the treatment. This will make you feel drowsy. They will also use a local anaesthetic to numb the area over the kidney. Some people may have the treatment under a general anaesthetic.

The doctor places one or more fine probes through the skin into the centre of the tumour. They use live images from an ultrasound scanner or CT scanner to guide them to the area of the kidney that needs treatment.

The probes then heat or freeze the tumour. The extreme temperature destroys the cancer cells. The doctor will also aim to destroy a small area of healthy tissue (about 1cm) around the tumour. This is to try to make sure no cancer cells are left behind to grow back again.

Possible complications of tumour ablation include infection and bleeding. Rarely, it may cause a small hole in the bowel or a blockage in the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder (ureter). You will have a scan after treatment to check for any complications. These can be treated straight away if needed.

You usually stay in bed for 4–6 hours after the treatment. You may need to take painkillers for a few days. Sometimes people feel sick immediately after tumour ablation. If this happens, tell your nurse or doctor. They can give you anti sickness drugs. Most people go home the day after treatment and feel well enough to go back to their usual activities within a few days.

You will have regular follow-up scans to check the kidney for any signs of the cancer growing back.

Back to Treating

Making treatment decisions

Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.


Surgery involves removing all or part of the cancer with an operation. It is an important treatment for many cancers.

Monitoring kidney cancer

Sometimes, active treatment may not be immediately necessary or appropriate. Doctors may suggest monitoring small, low-grade cancers.

Immunotherapies for kidney cancer

Immunotherapy drugs encourage the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat types of advanced kidney cancer.

Radiotherapy for kidney cancer

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It may relieve symptoms caused by kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Clinical trials

Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.

Life after cancer treatment

You might be thinking about how to get back to normal following treatment. Find advice, information and support about coping with and after cancer.