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

Many people with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are not healthy enough to undergo surgery. Some people might have a lung tumor in a place that makes surgery very difficult. Others might have advanced lung cancer and lung surgery may not be helpful. In these cases, ablative treatments (ablation) may be a treatment option. Ablative treatment is the use of temperature (hot and cold) to kill cancer cells and their surrounding tissue.

Types of ablation for lung cancer

  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses high-energy radio waves to heat and destroy the tumor cells.
  • Cryoablation uses liquid nitrogen or argon gas to freeze and destroy the tumor cells.
  • Microwave ablation uses electromagnetic energy to heat and destroy the tumor cells.

Ways to do ablation for lung cancer

  • Ablation using percutaneous approach: 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. This 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.
  • Ablation using bronchoscopy: You will be given anesthesia for the bronchoscopy. Ablation will be done through the bronchoscopy tube and your airway, rather than from the outside through the skin. This is still quite a new way to give ablative treatment.

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Revised: January 29, 2024

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