Karen Reckamp, MD

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Radiofrequency Ablation in Lung Cancer: Promising Results in Safety and Efficacy

October 1st 2005

Only about 15% of patients diagnosed with lung carcinoma eachyear are surgical candidates, either due to advanced disease orcomorbidities. The past decade has seen the emergence of minimallyinvasive therapies using thermal energy sources: radiofrequency,cryoablation, focused ultrasound, laser, and microwave; radiofrequencyablation (RFA) is the best developed of these. Radiofrequency ablationis safe and technically highly successful in terms of initial ablation.Long-term local control or complete necrosis rates drop considerablywhen tumors are larger than 3 cm, although repeat ablations can beperformed. Patients with lung metastases tend to fare better with RFlung ablation than those with primary lung carcinoma in terms of localcontrol, but it is unclear if this is related to smaller tumor size at time oftreatment, lesion size uniformity, and sphericity with lung metastases,or to differences in patterns of pathologic spread of disease. The effectsof RFA on quality of life, particularly dyspnea and pain, as well aslong-term outcome studies are generally lacking. Even so, the resultsregarding RF lung ablation are comparable to other therapies currentlyavailable, particularly for the conventionally unresectable or high-risklung cancer population. With refinements in technology, patient selection,clinical applications, and methods of follow-up, RFA will continueto flourish as a potentially viable stand-alone or complementarytherapy for both primary and secondary lung malignancies in standardand high-risk populations.