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Radiofrequency Ablation for Liver Cancer

To qualify for this high-tech procedure, a patient must have three or fewer tumors that are less than 4 centimeters in size. The RF approach is favored under these circumstances because it produces less tissue destruction and takes less time than does chemoembolization.

Using ultrasound guidance, the radiologist inserts a needle electrode through a small incision in the skin and directly into the liver tumor. He then pushes a plunger to eject a series of prongs from the needle's tip that fan out like an umbrella frame. Current is sent into the tines and incites ions in tumor cells nearby to follow the flow of current. "The current creates friction, similar to rubbing your hands together," Brown says.

Friction, in turn, creates heat. When the temperature inside the tumor cells surpasses 50° Celsius, the cells begin to die. A much higher temperature - about 75° Celsius, or roughly 167° Fahrenheit - is reached during RF ablation. The procedure takes about an hour, and patients can go home the same day.

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Copyright 2014 Washington University School of Medicine
Copyright 2014 Washington University School of Medicine