By transforming radio signals into a surgical laser, surgeons at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center are able to use high-energy radiofrequency sound waves to destroy inoperable primary and metastatic liver tumors. This procedure--called radiofrequency ablation--improves a surgeons ability to access and treat liver tumors.
"Many patients have tumors in the liver that cannot be safely removed while still preserving the remaining organ or they may have multiple tumors that make surgical extraction almost impossible," explains Frank Spitz, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the university.
How Radiofrequency Ablation Works
To reach those formerly inaccessible tumors via radiofrequency ablation, surgeons use ultrasound as a visual road map to guide a needle-sized probe into the center of the tumor. Once inside the tumor, the tip of the probe is carefully opened to permit heat-delivering wire extensions to penetrate a larger span of the tumor. The surgeon, then, literally chars the tumorous tissues by zapping up to 100 watts of heat through the probe tip and attached tentacle-like extensions. The heat, similar to that generated by a microwave oven, kills the tumor.
In a recently approved protocol, Penns cancer specialists are studying the effectiveness of this technique in destroying tumors. "We hope that the study results will indicate that radiofrequency ablation completely destroys tumors so that patients who are currently inoperable will have the option of radiofrequency ablation available to them in the near future," says Doug Fraker, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Penn and principal investigator of the study. "In radiofrequency ablation, the heater probe appears to have an advantage over cryosurgery because a much smaller probe is used and vascular complications are ultimately decreased, " he adds.