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Radiofrequency Ablation of the Liver

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about radiofrequency ablation of the liver?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that uses electrical currents to destroy cancer cells in your liver. A needle electrode delivers an electrical current that creates heat and destroys the tumor. This procedure is commonly used for small tumors.

How do I prepare for RFA of the liver?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for RFA. You may be told not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your procedure. Your provider will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of your procedure. Your provider may ask you to stop taking aspirin, NSAIDs, or blood thinners for a period of time before your procedure.

What will happen during RFA of the liver?

  • You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during RFA. You may instead be given local anesthesia to numb the area where the procedure will be done. With local anesthesia, you may still feel pressure or pushing during the procedure, but you should not feel any pain. Your healthcare provider may use a CT scan, MRI, or an ultrasound to guide the needle electrode to the tumor.
  • Your provider will make a small cut in your skin. A needle or probe will be passed through this opening. Your provider will guide the needle electrode to the tumor and apply heat. The needle may need to be removed and heat applied to different parts of the tumor. This helps make sure the entire tumor is destroyed. Your provider will remove the needle and apply pressure to the area to stop bleeding. The area will be covered with dressing.

What are the risks of RFA of the liver?

  • You may develop a condition called post-ablation syndrome. This condition causes symptoms similar to the flu that occur 3 to 5 days after your procedure. These symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain that usually last about 5 days. You may bleed more than expected or get an infection. You may have abdominal pain. Your healthcare provider may need to make several small cuts or 1 large cut.
  • Parts of your liver may be damaged by the electrical current during your procedure. Organs or tissues near your liver may also be damaged. It is possible that not all of the tumor will be destroyed, or that the tumor will return. Your lung may collapse (pneumothorax). This can be life-threatening.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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