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Radiofrequency Ablation Shows Promise for Inoperable Liver Tumors

Radiofrequency Ablation Shows Promise for Inoperable Liver Tumors

Kim Jessup, MD, professor of surgery and director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is using radiofrequency ablation to dissolve tumors that have spread from the colon to the liver. According to Dr. Jessup, the radiofrequency ablation probe is placed inside a tumor and opened like a tiny umbrella; upon opening, the probe’s 10 curved prongs spring into the surrounding tumor tissue. “With this tool, we basically heat tumor cells until they boil and dissolve. Using ultrasound, we can actually see steam form within a treated tumor.”

Advantages Over Cryosurgery

“One advantage of this procedure over cryosurgery is that the cryosurgery probe is four times thicker than the radiofrequency ablation tool, making it more unwieldy to use,” said Dr. Jessup. “Moreover, the repeated freeze/thaw cycles involved in cryosurgery take about 40 minutes; radiofrequency ablation takes only about 10 minutes. Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that cryosurgery cannot be used around large blood vessels, and that this technique tends to result in bleeding after surgery because blood vessels near the tumor often are destroyed. Radio-frequency ablation effectively chars the area so that bleeding is less likely.”

Radiofrequency ablation is being used at only a handful of institutions across the country. Physicians think that use of such a tool will result in a decreased hospital stay. Although radiofrequency ablation is currently being used to treat inoperable liver tumors, this procedure may eventually be applied to other types of tumors and could be combined with other therapies.

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