Ablation Therapy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

At NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, interventional radiologists may use ablation therapies, nonsurgical techniques that involve applying heat or cold to destroy cancer cells. These therapies can shrink non-small cell lung cancer in people who cannot have surgery because of poor health. They may also help reduce the size of tumors that are blocking the airways, causing breathing problems.

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation uses high-energy radio waves to treat people who have non-small cell lung cancer. The procedure can be performed on small tumors located in difficult-to-reach areas of the lungs and in people whose health does not allow them to have surgery.

In radiofrequency ablation, doctors make a small incision and insert a long, thin radiofrequency probe into the chest. Doctors direct the probe under the guidance of a CT scan, an X-ray that creates three-dimensional, cross-sectional images of the body.

Doctors may place a thoracoscope, a thin, lighted tube with a video camera on its end, through the incision to help guide the insertion of the radiofrequency probe.

The radiofrequency energy heats the probe to a high temperature, destroying the cancer cells.

The procedure requires sedation. You may need to stay overnight in the hospital while you recover.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy, which uses a laser to destroy cancer cells, may be an option for people with non-small cell lung cancer that has not spread beyond the airways and who cannot have surgery because of poor health. The technique may also be used to shrink large tumors that are blocking the airways.

Photodynamic therapy is a two-step process. First, doctors inject a light-activated medication into a vein. This drug takes a couple of days to circulate in the body and collect in cancer cells.

Next, doctors insert a bronchoscope, a long, flexible tube with a camera on the end of it, through the nose or mouth into the airways and guide it to the site of the cancer. The bronchoscope has a laser on its end, which doctors focus on the non-small cell lung cancer.

The laser activates the light-sensitive drug within the cancer cells, helping to destroy them. The dead cells are sometimes removed through a bronchoscope several days later. Some people may need multiple photodynamic therapy sessions.

Doctors can apply a local anesthetic to the throat and give you a sedative to make you comfortable during the procedure. You can usually go home after the sedation wears off.

This treatment can cause the skin and eyes to be more sensitive to light, so doctors may recommend that you avoid direct sunlight for several weeks afterward by wearing protective clothing and sunscreen.


Our doctors may use cryotherapy, or extreme cold, to freeze and destroy cancer cells in the airway, making it easier for you to breathe. The approach is usually used in people who cannot have surgery.

In this procedure, doctors use a bronchoscope to guide a long, thin device called a cryoprobe through the nose or mouth to the cancer site. The cryoprobe contains extremely cold fluid called liquid nitrogen. When doctors place the probe directly on the tumor, it destroys the cancer cells.

Cryotherapy may be performed using general anesthesia or using a local anesthetic in the throat and sedation to make you comfortable. The procedure may require an overnight stay in the hospital.