What Happens During Radiofrequency Ablation for Kidney Cancer

Your doctor may suggest this treatment for kidney cancer, if one or more of these situations is true for you.

  • You have only one kidney.

  • Your kidney is not working well.

  • You have another health condition that prevents surgery.

  • You are elderly, making surgery or recovery from it difficult.

  • Your tumor is small--less than 2 inches. And the cancer is on the kidney's surface and not to close to other vital organs.

  • The cancer has spread to other organs, such as your lungs or liver.

  • You have a cancer that has come back, or you have more than one cancer.

Radiofrequency ablation is a less invasive way to treat kidney cancer than surgery. It also allows you to keep your kidney. It is a localized treatment because it affects only the tumor itself, not the whole body.

If you have this procedure, you will see an interventional radiologist. This specialized doctor will work closely with your urologist during your treatment.

On the day of the procedure, you may get a general anesthesia. This medicine puts you to sleep so that you don't feel pain or remember anything. Or you may get only enough anesthesia to make you sleepy so that you are still conscious but not feeling pain.

Then the interventional radiologist uses ultrasound to help him or her insert and guide a needlelike probe into the tumor. Prongs on the end of the catheter grasp the tumor. Then the end of the probe is heated to kill tumor cells.

Most people go home on the day of the procedure, although some people may stay the night in the hospital.

After the procedure, you will have follow-up CT scans to make sure the tumor hasn't returned. Your doctor can repeat this procedure, if necessary.

It is not yet clear how well this type of treatment compares with surgery. Since this is a new procedure, many insurance companies may need preapproval.

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