Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a time-proven and FDA-approved technique that has been used to destroy tumors in tissue in thousands of patients. Recently RFA has been used percutaneously (through the skin) to treat cancer in patients who are unable to undergo an open and more invasive traditional surgical procedure. Most commonly these tumors are cancer of the lung, liver and kidney. This specific technique is usually practiced by an Interventional Radiologist. These physicians specialize in using X-ray, MRI, CT and ultrasound to see inside the body to guide treatments of various organs. Another advantage of percutaneous RFA is patent recovery. These less invasive procedures compare favorable in success of treatment of tumors but can be done on an outpatient basis or requiring a brief overnight stay in the hospital. DRC provides this service at the following locations: Hutcheson Medical Center and Tennessee Imaging Downtown.

How does RFA Work?

An electrode (a small needle) is inserted into the body through a small skin incision to the location of the tumor. Radiofrequency waves are then generated in the lines of the electrode at the tumor site which results in heat formation. This heat results in coagulation and cell death to the tumor which is called necrosis. The process of heat generation is similar to how a microwave oven is able to heat food. Single or multiple applications can be used to destroy the entire lesion. Once the lesion/cancer is destroyed, the body will form a scar around the debris of the dead tumor which will be slowly absorbed over time. Lastly, the needle/electrode is then removed during heating to cauterize the tract and prevent tumor cells from recurring along the path of the electrode.

What are the Advantages of RFA?

Since the procedure can be performed through the skin, it is less risky and has fewer complications than traditional open surgical techniques. Most of the RFA procedures are performed without general anesthesia, thus further reducing the risks. RFA is typically performed using IV conscious sedation similar to other outpatient interventional procedures such as colonoscopy. It can also be repeated multiple times to achieve a successful result and can be combined with other treatment modalities like chemotherapy and radiation.

What Should I Expect?

Patients will arrive at the hospital on the morning of the procedure and receive an IV as well as antibiotics. Lab work will be drawn to ensure the safety of the procedure. The patient will then be taken to the room for the procedure, typically the CT scanner. This is the same scanner that most people commonly refer to as a "CAT scan." The patient is then given medications to relieve any discomfort and anxiety associated with the procedure. The procedure itself will usually take a few hours. Then the patient is taken to recovery with only a Band-Aid covering the small incision made to insert the probe into the tumor. After recovering from anesthesia, the patient will be allowed to go home. Most are able to resume normal activity the following day.

Is the Tumor Gone?

Most of the time, the cancer is entirely eliminated on the first treatment. However, the patient will be monitored closely using a combination of CT, MRI and PET/CT scans to ensure there is no recurrence. Typically, the scans are performed frequently at first, once every three months, and then later once or twice a year. If there is evidence for tumor recurrence, percutaneous RFA can be repeated.

In Summary...

Percutaneous RFA can be used as an alternative to traditional more invasive open surgical procedures with similar results. Most importantly, it can be used when no other treatment option can be tolerated by the patient to remove the cancer. Therefore, the procedure is able to provide hope to patients who are fighting cancer and hope is one of the keys to winning that battle.

Making an Appointment

When you call, we'll ask you for basic information such as your Social Security number. We'll ask you what type of test you need to schedule, and will schedule you for the best possible time. If you need to reschedule your exam, you can call us back and we'll be happy to arrange a better time for you.

When you call to schedule your exam, we'll also give you important information about preparing for the exam. If your doctor has scheduled the exam for you, and you have questions regarding the preparation or the procedure itself, you can call the imaging department where your procedure is being performed (please refer to our 'Locations' page for exact phone numbers).

Your physician will have several tasks to perform:

Complete the necessary paperwork to order the test (similar to writing a prescription for medication)

Fax, mail, or place the order in our computer system

Call us to schedule a test for you or have your physician call us directly

Obtaining Your Images

Exam Image Availability

DRC's state-of-the-art PACS technology offers you immediate access to the images of your radiologic exam. No longer does your physician have to wait to have copies of your films made. Although we can still print your X-ray on film for you with just 24 hours notice, your physician can now review your exam images immediately via the Internet. We offer safe and secure web access for your physician through Specialty Networks. Your privacy and HIPAA compliance is assured.

Images on a CD

If your physician prefers, the digital images from your study can be written to a CD-ROM, giving him/her a permanent record that can be accessed easily and quickly via a computer. CDs hold multiple studies and take up significantly less space than the traditional film in the brown envelope. A 24-hour notice is also requested to create this digital record for you.

Versatile Image Viewing Options

Internet access to your studies for your doctor is available immediately after your pictures are taken. Copies of your images can be obtained on a CD or on film with 24 hours notice.

Both Internet and CD viewing offer your physician the ability to digitally adjust your images in ways not possible with traditional X-ray film. Using the computer, the image can be made lighter or darker or zoomed for better visualization of a particular portion, for example. Your physician can fine-tune the images to accommodate his or her preferences.

Obtaining Copies of Your Images

To receive a CD or film copies of exam images, please follow these steps:

1. Call the location where your examination was performed (please refer to the locations page). Please provide your name and other identifying information along with the study being requested. With 24 hours notice, we can either create a CD-ROM or print a film for you. Our representative at the imaging center will provide you with the times available to pick up the exam.

2. To protect your privacy, please be sure to bring a picture ID when you pick up your CD/films, you will have to sign a Medical Images Release form when receiving your CD/films. If anyone else picks up your CD/films for you, please be sure to give him or her your written authorization to release your information to him or her.

3. If you would like us to send a copy of your study to a physician outside the DRC system, we will need a signed release from you along with the study you would like sent and the receiving doctor's name and address. You can fax or deliver us that release in the form of a signed letter at the fax number listed on the locations page. Please allow us plenty of time to send your films.

Any Costs

Currently the first set of films is provided at no cost to the patient. There is no charge for CD-ROM's and, of course, the Internet is always free.