Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) for Cancer

Radio frequency ablation cancer treatment

What is Radio Frequency Ablation?

Radio Frequency Ablation, sometimes abbreviated to RFA is a type of thermal ablation treatment that uses both heat and electrical energy to kill cancer cells although it may also be used to reduce the tumour size or to alleviate pain. Originally used to treat nerve related chronic pain and other conditions, it is now used more frequently to treat cancer too.

It is minimally invasive which means that it limits any damage to healthy tissue or cells.  This type of treatment is usually used in combination with other treatment methods or on its own to treat a specific area of cancer.

This method is just one type of cancer treatment OncoloMed offer through our network of cancer specialists and clinics. Talk to us to find out how we can facilitate this treatment or read on to learn more about the treatment. 

When is Radio Frequency Ablation Used to Treat Cancer?

Radio Frequency Ablation is often an alternative method of treatment when a patient cannot have surgery for a particular reason or if you have multiple tumours. It can be used to treat and help manage pain in a wide range of conditions and cancer types including breast cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer.

RFA is an effective treatment method in a wide range of circumstances however it is important to remember that it may not be right for you. You should get all the information from your care team about the treatment methods you are considering in order to make an informed decision. Alternatively, a second opinion can confirm your diagnosis and can help you and your family have confidence that the treatment you are opting for is the right choice for you.

Request a second opinion through OncoloMed.

Preparing for Thermal Ablation Treatment

This type of treatment is usually performed under general anaesthetic, or a sedative combined with a local anaesthetic. For this reason, prior to treatment, you should arrange for someone such as a close friend or relative to pick you up afterwards as you will not be allowed to drive yourself.

Other than water, you shouldn’t consume any food and drink prior to having thermal ablation due to being sedated. Your care team should provide specific instructions about what to prepare for.

Although in most cases, you can receive RFA as an outpatient, in some cases you may have treatment as an in-patient whereby you have to stay in hospital for the night. Again, this will be dependent on your case so you should consult with your doctor about how you will receive the treatment, so you are fully prepared.

What Happens During the Treatment? 

RFA treatment involves the use of a thin, long needle that is inserted into the skin and directed to the point of the tumour. Imaging will be used so your doctor can guide the needle to the correct point to minimise damage to otherwise healthy tissue however some healthy tissue may be affected if there is a risk of there being a presence of cancer cells. The treatment will take place in a surgical room where you lie down on a treatment couch. Your doctor will tell you which way to lie.

An electric current goes through the needle which produces heat. It is this heat that is used to destroy or ‘ablate’ the cancer. The temperature of heat can be altered depending on the size of your tumour. Your doctor may re-position the needle during the treatment to treat the correct areas. 

Depending on the size and complexity of the tumour, you can expect the whole procedure to be completed anywhere between 30 minutes to a couple of hours.

How Often Will the Treatment be Performed?

You may only have to have this treatment once or you may have it multiple times if there are more cancer cells to destroy. Your doctor will follow up with you and you may need CT or MRI scans to review the effectiveness of the treatment.

What Happens After the Treatment?

As you will be under a type of sedation when the treatment is performed, you will stay in the hospital to be monitored while this wears off. It’s not uncommon to experience some pain and discomfort from where the treatment has been performed and you may feel tired and weak from the anaesthetic. This should wear off over time though.

As it’s not advisable to drive on the same day after being under general anaesthetic., you should organise for someone to pick you up or an alternative mode of transport.

Most patients who undergo RFA can return to daily activities as normal, often from the following day although you may still feel a bit drowsy for a few days after and you may experience some pain.

Pain Management & Potential Side Effects of RFA

As heat has been used to destroy the cancer, you may find that you do experience some burning in the area that the treatment has been performed. The severity of this can differ between patients and depending on where the treatment was performed. You may also experience referred pain where the pain isn’t located in the area that the treatment was performed.

Over the course of a few weeks, any discomfort you are experiencing should eventually wear off. Your doctor can support your recovery and offer advice you if you are experiencing any pain. This may include recommending that ice or heat be applied to the area or OTC medicines may be prescribed.

Other side effects that have been reported from those who have undergone RFA include feeling unwell with a fever and finding blood in their urine. If you do experience any of these side effects, consult with your doctor who can help. 

Nutrition Advice When Undergoing Radio Frequency Ablation 

No matter what cancer treatment you are receiving, supporting the treatment and recovery by following a healthy diet is very important. Ensuring you fuel your body with the right nutrition can fuel recovery and support your body’s immune system to prevent against infection. Just some nutrition tips are:

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Limit intake of greasy, fatty or high-salt food
  • Aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Eat less but more often. This can help you to maintain your weight. Healthy snacks may include apple slices, crackers, flapjacks, popcorn and nuts.
  • Limit eating red or processed meats
  • Drink plenty of water

It’s important that it’s not a one size fits all model when it comes to nutrition. While the above advice is pretty common, you should talk to your care team about whether there is specific advice for you. You may be told that they are specific foods you should have and those you shouldn’t avoid.

More advice on the benefits of following a good nutrition can be found here.

Alternatives to RFA

Your care team will discuss all your choices for your treatment plan with you so that you can make an informed decision about the best path forward. It may be that radio frequency ablation hasn’t been discussed and it’s a treatment method that you would like to consider. In that scenario, you should talk to your doctor about this to ensure you have considered all the possible options – that may or may not be right for you.  It may be that this treatment isn’t available in your area, and you may be able to go elsewhere to receive the treatment. 

Explore Your Cancer Treatment Options

We work with some excellent and reputable clinics to facilitate cancer treatments that you may not have considered, or you may not be able to receive where you are.

We can support you to ensure you feel in control and use our network to find the best oncologist to deliver the most appropriate treatment for you. Learn more about just some of the cancer treatment options we can offer through our network and how we facilitate cancer treatments.

Supporting Over 500+ Cancer Patients Globally

OncoloMed have supported over 500+ patients and their families globally in their fight against cancer through our services facilitated by our caring team. Read just a selection of our inspiring patient stories to learn how we have helped.

Radio frequency ablation cancer treatment
Cancer patient smiling with her husband, walking along a beach

We are here to empower you in your cancer treatment journey. We take care of planning, organisation and facilitation so that you can focus on your health and family.

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