Thermal ablation is a technique where heat is used to treat small tumours in the liver. A needle is placed directly into the tumour and heat, either in the form of radio-frequency or microwave, is used to destroy the cancerous cells within the tumour.
The procedure is performed by a specialist doctor, an interventional radiologist, and imaging is used to ensure the correct site is located (normally ultrasound or CT). The liver is accessed either through the skin (percutaneous) or using keyhole surgery (laparoscopically) and the procedure is performed under a general anaesthetic. It normally requires an overnight stay following the procedure.
Am I suitable for ablation?
Not all tumours are suitable for ablation, generally it needs to be small in size and sometimes the position of a tumour in the liver means it is not possible to use ablation.
A patient also needs good liver function, as determined by liver blood tests, as there is a small risk of damage to surrounding normal liver; in someone with a normally functioning liver this is not normally a problem, but if liver function is impaired then this can make the liver function worse.
Additionally the patient must be generally fit enough to undergo a general anaesthetic.
What happens next?
Following an ablation a repeat scan is normally performed 4-8 weeks following the procedure to assess the effect.
Ablation is a safe procedure but there are some small risks
Risks of ablation are generally low with a risk of serious complications of less than 1%.
There is a very small risk of damage to other structures and there are also the general risks that anyone undergoing a general anaesthetic faces including postoperative confusion, heart attack, pneumonia and stroke.
Overall, general anaesthetic is very safe even for particularly ill patients.
Patients may feel some discomfort at the site of the ablation and may have a mild fever or flu-like symptoms for several days.
Infection following ablation is also possible as well as abnormal liver function tests.
You can download our information leaflet about ablation here: