Ablation Therapies for Liver Cancer

Some people cannot have surgery to remove a liver tumor, because they have severe cirrhosis or a tumor that is too close to important blood vessels. Others may not meet the eligibility requirements for liver transplantation due to underlying illnesses, such as significant heart or lung disease. For these people, Perlmutter Cancer Center doctors may recommend ablation therapies, which are minimally invasive techniques that use extreme heat or cold to destroy cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue.

Although ablation therapies do not remove tumors, they can cause complete remission, especially if tumors are 3 centimeters in diameter or smaller.

Ablation therapies are also used to shrink tumors and ease symptoms in people who are waiting for a liver transplant.

An interventional radiologist, a doctor who specializes in treating conditions using minimally invasive techniques with imaging guidance, usually performs ablation procedures. Sometimes, surgeons use laparoscopy or open surgery to perform ablation procedures.

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Our experts use advanced treatment techniques, including ablation therapies, to treat liver tumors.

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Types of Ablation Therapies

Cold therapy is called cryoablation. Heat therapy consists of either high-energy radio waves, called radiofrequency ablation (RFA), or microwave ablation (MWA).

During ablation therapy, cold or heat is transmitted from a special machine through a needle-shaped probe placed into a liver tumor. With the guidance of an imaging technique, such as ultrasound or a CT scan, the doctor inserts the probe through the skin and into the liver and the tumor.

Imaging is also used during the procedure to monitor treatment and determine whether the approach is helping to destroy tumor tissue and ensure an adequate tissue margin, which is the border of healthy tissue around the tumor.

We were among the first to offer irreversible electroporation, or IRE, a minimally invasive type of ablation that delivers an electric current directly to the tumor, killing cancer cells.

Our doctors may use a newer ablation technology called irreversible electroporation that does not use thermal energy. In this therapy, several small needles deliver an electric current to the tumor. Doctors may use ultrasound or a CT scan to help guide the procedure.

Perlmutter Cancer Center doctors were among the first to use this technique to manage liver tumors. They can discuss whether this treatment may be an option for you.

Ablation Therapies During Surgery

Sometimes surgeons perform ablation procedures using laparoscopic surgery. During laparoscopy, the surgeon makes a few small incisions near the liver and places the ablation probe or needles and a laparoscope, a lighted tube with a tiny camera on it, into the incisions.

Surgeons may use laparoscopy in people who have tumors that are near other vital structures, such as the gallbladder or the intestines.

Ablation approaches can also be used to help manage liver tumors immediately before removing a tumor during open surgery. Doctors may use ablation to help ensure the tumor margin is adequate before the tumor is surgically removed.

An anesthesiologist makes sure you’re comfortable during an ablation procedure, no matter how it is done, whether with a needle probe or during surgery.

Recovery from Ablation Therapies

Ablation therapy that is performed using a needle probe may require only a few hours of recovery time or an overnight stay in the hospital. Laparoscopic or open procedures may require a few days of in-hospital recovery. Our specialists can manage any pain you may experience. Most people return to their regular activities a few days later.

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