What Is Surgical Ablation?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
  • Edited By: John Allen
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Surgical ablation is a term used to describe a class of medical procedures, most of which are used to treat heart conditions. Ablation using a surgical approach may also be used to treat tumors, cancers, and other health problems. Depending on the specific procedure performed, a laser, cryoprobe, or other instrument is used to alter internal body tissues by cutting, freezing, or heating. In the case of cardiology treatments, surgical ablation typically involves creating lesions on the heart in an effort to build scar tissue. For certain types of cancers or tumors, a catheter is used to deliver heat or cold to help destroy abnormal cells.

Unlike other types of ablation, surgical ablation procedures require an incision to insert the instruments required for the given treatment. Minimally invasive surgical ablation typically only requires small incisions, just large enough to accommodate instruments. Other surgical ablation procedures are far more invasive, requiring extensive surgical procedures. Most surgeons prefer to combine invasive ablation procedures with other needed surgeries to minimize infection risks and reduce recovery times.

There are several types of ablation used in cardiology, with the choice of procedure often dictated by other medical conditions, the need for other surgical procedures, and the overall health of the patient. Cardiac surgical ablation procedures include the Maze procedure, the minimally invasive Maze, and robot-assisted ablation. Each procedure varies in terms of the equipment used, the point at which the incision is made, and how invasive the procedure is to body systems. Maze procedures, for example, require opening a patient's chest and stopping the heart, much like open-heart surgery.

When used to treat conditions such as atrial fibrillation, the surgeon uses a small catheter to help create lesions on the heart muscles. The goal is to cause the development of scar tissue. Once healed, the scar tissue helps control electrical impulses that travel along the heart muscle and influence cardiac rhythms. Used in other cardiac procedures, surgical ablation uses heat, cold, or lasers to destroy abnormal cells or help develop scar tissue in other areas of the heart.

Although surgical ablation procedures are most often used in cardiology, other conditions benefit from ablation, including certain types of tumors and cancers, as well as some gynecological conditions. As with cardiac ablation procedures, other types of surgical ablation require incisions to allow for the use of catheters, cameras, lasers, or probes. Different types of ablation require different levels of invasion into the body, although most procedures, outside of cardiology, are minimally invasive.

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