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Radiofrequency Ablation of the Lung

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

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

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that uses electrical currents to destroy cancer cells in your lung. A needle electrode delivers an electrical current that creates heat and destroys the tumor.

How do I prepare for RFA of the lung?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for surgery. 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 lung?

  • You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. 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 will use a CT scan 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. Your provider may need to move the needle and apply heat to different parts of the tumor to make sure the entire tumor is destroyed. The needle will be removed and pressure will be applied to the area to stop bleeding. The area will be covered with a bandage.

What will happen after RFA of the lung?

An x-ray or CT scan of your chest will be taken within 4 hours after RFA. These tests are done to check for a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) or other lung problems. A collapsed lung may be caused by air or gas that collects in your chest. A collapsed lung does not always need to be treated. A tube may need to be placed in your chest for a few days to help remove the extra air.

What are the risks of RFA of the lung?

  • You may have chest pain, or you may spit up blood after RFA. 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.
  • Nerves near your lung may be damaged by the electrical current during your procedure. Blood may collect in the space between your chest wall and lung. Fluid may collect in the space between your lung and the covering over your lung. This fluid may need to be removed with a needle. It is possible that not all of the tumor will be destroyed, or that the tumor will return. This procedure may need to be done again.

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