Infographic: Ablation for Cancer Treatment

Using Heat or Cold to Kill Cancer

Ablation is a needle-based treatment that destroys cancerous or otherwise abnormal tissue.

Two most common ablation methods:

  • Extreme cold (cryoablation)
  • Extreme heat (radiofrequency and microwave ablation)

Additional ablation methods:

Chemical, laser, and high-intensity focused ultrasound

The choice of ablation method is tailored to each patient.

It may be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy.

Why choose ablation therapy?

  • Minimally invasive: Only a small bandage is required after removal of probes.
  • Quick recovery: Patients often dismissed from the hospital within 24 hours.

Where is ablation normally used?

  • Bone
  • Brain
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Soft tissue
  • Spine
  • Thyroid
  • Uterus
  • Vascular malformations

Two common ablation methods

Whether using cold or heat to kill tumor cells, the process begins by placing probes into the tumor with state-of-the-art imaging guidance to avoid harming adjacent tissues and to obtain an effective treatment.

Cryoablation (freezing tumors)

Circulation of super-cooled gases within special hollow needles called cryoprobes produces lethal ice around their tips.

  1. Begin freezing process: Upon activation, probe temperatures drop to below-100° C, freezing tissue around the needle tip.
  2. Freeze entire tumor solid: Ice encases the tumor (approximately 10 minutes); freezing destroys tumors by damaging cell membranes.
  3. Thaw: Freeze/thaw cycles are performed during treatment to optimize tumor cell death, and the probes are then removed.

Radiofrequency and microwave ablation (heating tumors)

Probes are powered by radiofrequency or microwave generators creating extreme heat at the probe tips.

  1. Begin heating process: Probe temperatures reach above 60° C, killing adjacent cells.
  2. Heat the entire tumor: The affected area is carefully monitored to minimize surrounding tissue damage.
  3. Withdraw probes: Tissue cools, leaving just harmless destroyed tumor.

Tumor ablation may be a good choice when:

  • Surgery is too risky for the patient
  • Tumors cause pain
  • Precision is required
  • A less invasive treatment is preferred
  • Future treatments may be needed for new tumors