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Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

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Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) might be considered for some people with small lung tumors that are near the outer edge of the lungs, especially if they can’t tolerate surgery.

RFA uses high-energy radio waves to heat the tumor. A thin, needle-like probe is put through the skin and moved in until the tip is in the tumor. Placement of the probe is guided by CT scans. Once the tip is in place, an electric current is passed through the probe, which heats the tumor and destroys the cancer cells.

RFA is usually done as an outpatient procedure, using local anesthesia (numbing medicine) where the probe is inserted. You may be given medicine to help you relax as well.

You might have some pain where the needle was inserted for a few days after the procedure. Major complications are uncommon, but they can include the partial collapse of a lung (which often goes away on its own) or bleeding into the lung.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Chiang A, Detterbeck FC, Stewart T, Decker RH, Tanoue L. Chapter 48: Non-small cell lung cancer. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.

Dupuy DE. Image-guided ablation of lung tumors. UpToDate website. Updated April 11, 2018. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Jahangeer S. Forde P, Soden D, Hinchion J. Review of current thermal ablation treatment for lung cancer and the potential of electrochemotherapy as a means for treatment of lung tumors. Cancer Treat Rev. 2013;39(8):862-871.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Health Professional Version. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment. 2019. Accessed at on June 06, 2019.



Last Revised: October 1, 2019

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