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Radiofrequency ablation for carcinoid

Men and women discussing carcinoid cancer

This page is about radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for carcinoid (neuroendocrine) tumours that have spread to the liver.

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Radiofrequency ablation for carcinoid

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) kills cancer cells by heating them up. Doctors may use it to treat carcinoid tumours that have spread to the liver and cannot be removed by surgery. It controls symptoms well for most people.

What happens when you have RFA

You have RFA under general anaesthetic or sedation.

The doctor guides a special needle or probe through the skin of your abdomen into the tumour, guided by an ultrasound scan or CT scan. The probe is an electrode that passes a radiofrequency current into the tumour. This heats the tumour and destroys it. The treatment takes between 30 minutes and an hour.

Side effects of radiofrequency ablation

You may have some pain in your abdomen and shoulders for a few days after treatment. About 3 to 5 days after treatment you may have flu like symptoms and feel tired. You should be able to get back to doing your normal activities after about a week. Contact your doctor if you still feel unwell after this time or your temperature goes above 38°C, as you may have an infection.

Microwave ablation

Microwave ablation is a newer treatment for small tumours in the liver. It is similar to having RFA, but it uses different energy waves to heat and destroy the tumour.
 

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What radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses radio waves to heat up tumour cells and destroy them. The heat only travels a short distance so most of the healthy liver tissue is unaffected. 

Doctors use RFA to treat carcinoid tumours that have spread to the liver and cannot be removed with surgery. They generally use it for tumours that are less than 5cm.

RFA helps to control symptoms for most people. 

 

How you have RFA

Before you have radiofrequency ablation, you must not eat or drink for at least 6 hours. You usually have the treatment in the scanning (X-ray) department of the hospital.

You may have RFA under general anaesthetic, or sedation (which makes you sleepy) and local anaesthetic.

The doctor uses either an ultrasound scan or a CT scan to guide a special needle or probe through the skin into the tumour. The probe is an electrode that passes a radiofrequency current into the tumour. This heats the tumour and destroys it. Normal liver tissue is able to withstand heat better than the tumour and so can recover more easily.

The treatment takes between 30 minutes and an hour. After the treatment, you will need time to recover from the anaesthetic or sedation. You should be able to go home later that day or the next day. 

 

Side effects of RFA

You will take painkillers for a few days after treatment as you can have some pain around the treatment site. You may also have some pain in your shoulders afterwards. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have pain after a week or the painkillers aren't helping.

Some people have flu like symptoms that start about 3 to 5 days after treatment and can last up to a week. You may also feel tired. You should be back to doing your normal activities after about a week. Contact your doctor if you feel unwell after this time or have a temperature above 38°C, as you may have an infection. 

There is a risk of damaging the bowel or bile ducts during the procedure. But this is rare as the doctor uses scans to help guide the probe in place. Another risk is bleeding caused by the probe going into the liver. Again this is rare. Your doctor and nurses will be closely monitoring you during and after the procedure. So if this happens they can deal with it straight away.

 

Microwave ablation

Microwave ablation is a newer treatment for small tumours in the liver. It is similar to having RFA, but it uses different energy waves - microwaves - to heat and destroy the tumour.

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Updated: 22 June 2016