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Radiofrequency treatment

Radiofrequency treatment is also called radiofrequency ablation or RFA. It uses radio waves to kill cancer cells. Radiofrequency is a type of electrical energy. It heats up the tumour and kills the cancer cells.

Who has it

You might have radiofrequency treatment if you have:

  • a small, early stage kidney cancer but you can't have surgery
  • more than one small tumour, or tumours in both kidneys
  • advanced kidney cancer, where it can help to shrink a tumour and control symptoms

You can't have it if your cancer is too close to other organs, such as the bowel.

This treatment is only available in specialist cancer centres. You can have it more than once if you need to.

What happens

You might have radiofrequency treatment under local or general anaesthetic.

The doctor puts a small probe, like a needle, through your skin and into the cancer. You have a CT scan at the same time. This checks that the probe is in exactly the right place. An electrode in the probe creates radiofrequency energy to produce heat and kill the cancer cells. 

You may need to stay in hospital overnight afterwards.

Side effects

You might have some discomfort or pain in the treatment area. Your doctor or nurse will give you painkillers to take for a few days.

You may also have a slight temperature and feel tired and weak while you recover. You might need to take it easy and avoid strenuous activity.

Bleeding or infection are other possible side effects.

Some people get a narrowing of the tube from the kidney to the bladder (ureter). This causes problems with passing urine.

Last reviewed: 
17 Jan 2019
  • Partial nephrectomy versus ablative techniques for small renal masses: a systematic review and network meta-analysis

    J Uhlig and others 

    European Radiology 2018 10.1007/s00330-018-5660-3

  • MDT Guidance for managing Renal Cancer
    British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), Section of Oncology and British Uro-oncology Group (BUG), May 2012

  • Percutaneous radiofrequency ablation for renal cancer
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, July 2010

  • Thermal Ablation of T1c Renal Cell Carcinoma: A Comparative Assessment of Technical Performance, Procedural Outcome, and Safety of Microwave Ablation, Radiofrequency Ablation, and Cryoablation

    W Zhou, and R Arellano

    Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology 2018 29(7):943-951

  • Renal cell carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    B Escudier and others

    Annal of Oncology 2016 27 (Supplement 5): v58–v68,

  • EAU Guidelines Renal Cell Carcinoma 

    B Ljungberg and others 

    European Association of Urology 2018 

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