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
probes 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.