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Radiofrequency ablation for lung cancer

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This page tells you about radiofrequency ablation for lung cancer. There is information about

 

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Radiofrequency ablation for lung cancer

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat made by radio waves to kill cancer cells. Radiofrequency is a type of electrical energy. Ablation means destroying completely. The electrical energy heats up the tumour and kills the cancer cells. You can have it along with other types of lung cancer treatment. It can be done more than once if needed.

Having radiofrequency ablation

You have RFA under local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic. The doctor passes a small probe (like a needle) through the skin and directly into the tumour. Radiofrequency energy then passes through the probe, producing heat to destroy the tumour tissue. You may need to stay in hospital overnight after the treatment.

Side effects of radiofrequency ablation

You may have some discomfort or pain in the treatment area for a few days. You may also have a slight temperature and may feel a bit tired and weak. You may need to avoid any strenuous activity during that time.

The most common complication with RFA for lung cancer is air getting into the chest cavity (pneumothorax). This is not a serious complication though and usually goes away on its own with no treatment.

 

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What radiofrequency ablation is

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat made by radio waves to kill cancer cells. Radiofrequency is a type of electrical energy. Ablation means destroying completely. The electrical energy heats up the tumour and kills the cancer cells. It may be used for people with small early stage non small cell lung cancer who can't have surgery or who don't want to have conventional surgery. It may also be used for people with advanced lung cancer where the tumour is blocking an airway and causing breathlessness.

You can have it along with other types of lung cancer treatment. It can be done more than once if needed.

 

Having radiofrequency ablation

You have RFA under local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic. You have it through a small probe (like a needle) that goes through the skin of your chest and directly into the tumour. Doctors call this percutaneous RFA. Percutaneous means through the skin. The treatment is usually done under CT scan guidance so that the doctor can make sure the probe is in exactly the right place. An electrode in the probe then creates radiofrequency energy to produce heat and destroy the tumour tissue.

You may need to stay in hospital overnight afterwards.

 

Side effects of radiofrequency ablation

You may have some discomfort or pain in the treatment area. Your doctor or nurse will prescribe painkillers for you to take for a few days. You may also have a slight temperature and feel tired and weak for a few days. During this time you may need to take it easy and avoid any strenuous activity.

The most common complication with RFA for lung cancer is air getting into the chest cavity (pneumothorax). This is not a serious complication though and usually goes away on its own with no treatment.

 

Getting more information about RFA

We have more information about radiofrequency ablation treatment. You can ask your doctor or specialist nurse for written information. You can also phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Our lung cancer organisations page has details of people who can give information about radiofrequency ablation. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our lung cancer reading list has information about books and leaflets about lung cancer treatments.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 31 March 2014