Tumor Ablation

Tumor ablation is a minimally invasive treatment used to destroy cancer cells in the lung and chest. During tumor ablation, your physician will insert a specially equipped needle into the tumor. Once the probe is in place, your physician will transmit energy through it and into the tumor.

There are four types of tumor ablation:

  • Radiofrequency, in which high-frequency electric current passes through the probe, causing the probe to increase in temperature, which kills the cancer cells.
  • Cryotherapy, in which liquid nitrogen circulates through the probe, freezing the cancer cells.
  • Microwave, in which radio waves heat the probe to kills the cancer cells.
  • Ethanol, in which your physician uses alcohol to treat cancer cells

Ablation is good option for people who:

  • Want to avoid conventional surgery
  • Are too ill to undergo surgery
  • Have a tumor that is too large to be removed surgically
  • Have a limited number of tumors that have metastasized (spread from other parts of their body)

Your physician may recommend ablation for its potential to destroy tumors, or as companion treatment to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

What to Expect

You will be positioned on an examining table, and you will be connected to machines that monitor your heart rate and blood pressure during the procedure. A nurse or technologist will insert an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm to give you sedatives and other medications and fluids. Your physician will use a CT scan to locate the tumor. Once the tumor is located, the area on your chest through which the probes will be inserted will be cleaned and covered with a surgical drape. Your physician will then numb the insertion point with a local anesthetic and make a small incision.

Your physician will advance the probe through the incision to the site of the tumor using CT guidance. Once the probe is in place, your physician will activate the energy source. Your physician may reposition the needle depending on the tumor size or if more than one tumor will be ablated. Each ablation takes between 10 and 30 minutes, and the entire procedure typically takes between one and three hours. Once the ablation is complete, the physician removes the probe and applies pressure to the insertion point to prevent bleeding.


Following your ablation procedure, you will be taken to an anesthesia recovery room where your vital signs will be monitored. In addition, you will have a chest x-ray to ensure that your lung has not collapsed from an air pocket created in the space between your lungs and chest wall (called a pneumothorax). If your physician finds a pneumothorax, which is rare but may occur during this type of procedure, you may have a tube inserted to remove the air.

Once you are stable, you will be transferred to your hospital room, where you will stay overnight. Typically patients are discharged within 24 to 48 hours after tumor ablation. Recovery is usually quick, and you should be able to resume normal activities within a few days. You may experience discomfort from the site where the ablation needle was inserted. In addition, you may experience fatigue, muscle ache, and possibly a low-grade fever (up to 102° Fahrenheit) for several days following your ablation procedure.

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