What is tumor ablation?

Tumor ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for cancer.  It can be an alternative to surgery for patients with a few, small tumors in certain locations.  

Ablation uses heat or ice to destroy liver tumors.  Heating the tumor is done with “microwave ablation” or “radiofrequency ablation.”  Freezing the tumor is called “cryoablation.”  The dead tumor turns into a scar over time. 


How is tumor ablation done?

Tumor ablation is done by a specialized doctor, called an Interventional Radiologist, or IR.   The IR uses medical imaging to guide a skinny wand through a pinhole in the skin and into the tumor.  The tip of the wand is used to heat or freeze the tumor.  After the ablation, the IR removes the wand and puts a small bandage over the pinhole.  

Tumor ablation may be done with medicine to make you drowsy or with anesthesia to put you to sleep.  Discuss your options with your doctor.


LIVER TUMOR ABLATION (using microwave or radiofrequency)  

Figure 1: Ablation wand heating tumor


Figure 2: The doctor numbs the skin and uses CT or ultrasound to guide a wand into the tumor.

Figure 3: The wand heats up and destroys the tumor in minutes.  The normal liver outside of this area is preserved.

Figure 4: Ablation is done through a pinhole, so patients go home with a bandage.  The dead tumor turns into a scar over time.


What are the treatment alternatives?

Your treatment options are based on your overall health, lifestyle and the size, location and number of tumors you have.  Possible alternatives include:

  • Alternative 1:  not doing any procedure. The advantage of this is avoiding a procedure. The disadvantage of this is that the cancer may continue to grow without treatment.
  • Alternative 2: another minimally invasive, image-guided procedure called TACE. This procedure delivers beads soaked with chemotherapy through a tiny tube inside the blood vessels that feed the tumor
  • Alternative 3:  another minimally invasive, image-guided procedure called TARE. This procedure is similar to TACE, but the beads deliver radiation instead of chemotherapy. The results of these two options are similar.
  • Alternative 4: surgery to cut the tumor out.  This is only for patients with early liver cancer who are healthy enough for surgery.


What are the risks of liver tumor ablation?

Liver tumor ablation is generally a safe procedure when done by a specialized doctor.

Major Complication Risks

  • Major complications of ablation are rare.  They include internal bleeding, infection, skin burns, and damage to areas surrounding the liver. Major complications occur in

  • Death is extremely rare, occurring in

Minor Complication Risks

experience minor complication such as temporary pain, fever, minor bleeding, nausea or vomiting.


Post Procedure

What happens after my tumor ablation procedure?

1. You will be monitored in the recovery area and given medicine as needed to help with pain or nausea

2. Some people can go home after a few hours of monitoring. Other people stay overnight in the hospital. 

3. You will have another MRI or CT after treatment to see how you responded. 

4. After that, you will have a clinic visit with your IR to discuss your response and the next steps. 



When should I call my doctor or 911?


You have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher





You have  uncontrollable  pain 





You have sudden trouble breathing or shortness of breath





You have severe nausea and vomiting



You see new skin changes like redness



You have bleeding or new swelling at the treatment site


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