Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a treatment option for kidney cancer. It uses the heat produced by high-frequency radio waves to kill the cancer cells. The radio waves reach the tumour through a needle (Fig. 1).
Usually RFA is performed through the skin and the doctor uses ultrasound or a CT scan to guide the needle. In order to know the subtype of the tumour, a biopsy is generally performed before starting the treatment. For this procedure you usually receive local anaesthesia, but in some cases general anaesthesia is necessary. RFA can also be performed during laparoscopic or open surgery.
Your doctor may suggest RFA treatment if you have a small kidney tumour (less than 4 cm) and surgery is not an option for you. This may be related to your age or any medical conditions which make surgery dangerous for you.
RFA is an effective and safe treatment for a small kidney tumour but there is a risk that tumour cells are left in the kidney after RFA. This means that the chance of recurrence is higher than after surgery.
While the procedure is safe, there are risks of complications. The most common complications include pain around the treated area and a prickling or tingling sensation of your skin, known as paraesthesia. Bleeding can also occur, and in rare cases it may lead to a blood transfusion. After RFA, urine can leak and collect around the kidney. During treatment, your ureter, spleen, liver, or bowel may be injured.
After RFA, follow-up visits are scheduled every 3 months. During these, CT or MRI scans are used to monitor your kidney and detect possible tumour recurrence on time.
RFA can be performed more than once, in case of tumour recurrence or if the first treatment was unsuccessful.