Ablative techniques for advanced cancer

Putting a needle or probe right into a tumor and using heat, cold, or a chemical to destroy it is called ablation. It’s used most often for cancer that has spread to the bone or liver, but may be used in other areas, too. It’s most often used when only a few tumors are causing problems.

A common type of ablation called radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses a needle that carries an electric current. The tip of the needle is put into the tumor. Ultrasound or CT scans may be used to be sure the needle is in the right place. An electric current passed through the needle heats the tumor to destroy it. RFA is usually done while the patient is under general anesthesia (deeply asleep and not able to feel pain).

In another type of ablation, called cryoablation, a probe put into the tumor is used to freeze it, killing the cancer cells. Other methods may use alcohol to kill the cells or other ways to heat the tumor (such as laser-induced interstitial thermotherapy).

Ablation is discussed in more detail in Liver Cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 7, 2014 Last Revised: March 6, 2014

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