What Are the Different Types of Medical Ablation?

Maggie J. Hall

Medical ablators are chemicals and instruments that subject tissues to extreme cold or hot temperatures. Tissues die immediately when exposed to cauterization or freezing, and surgeons can then easily remove the tissue. Ablation procedures are usually less invasive and require a shorter amount of recuperation time than other surgical procedures. Physicians may perform medical ablation anywhere on the body from the skin's surface to tissues deep within.

Tissues die immediately when exposed to cauterization.
Tissues die immediately when exposed to cauterization.

Cardiac surgeons perform medical ablation procedures using alcohol to treat hypertropic cardiomyopathy. Patients diagnosed with this condition experience a thickening of the heart's septal wall. Physicians typically perform the procedure in a catherization lab with the patient awake but mildly sedated. With the guidance of imaging technology, the cardiologist threads a catheter through blood vessels leading to the heart. Alcohol injected through the catheter contacts the thickened wall, destroying and shrinking the enlarged tissue.

Gynecologists can eliminate abnormal tissue using controlled radio frequency ablation.
Gynecologists can eliminate abnormal tissue using controlled radio frequency ablation.

Dermatologists use chemicals for dermabrasion and microdermabrasion procedures. This type of medical ablation causes skin peeling. Cryoablation with argon gas are also used to freeze unwanted biological tissue to subzero temperatures. Once frozen, the tissue hardens and specialists use an abrasive brush or diamond wheel to remove the tissue layer by layer. Patients may undergo surface ablation for acne scars, fine lines, or abnormal growths.

Endometrial ablation is generally performed when masses are very close to the surface of the uterine lining.
Endometrial ablation is generally performed when masses are very close to the surface of the uterine lining.

Surgeons also use cryoablation for the destruction of internal tumors up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter. Through a small incision, physicians insert a hollow wand. Guided by computer tomography or ultrasound, the wand arrives at the tumor location and emits the freezing gas into the tumor. The cells die on contact and become harmless scar tissue.

Alcohol ablation is commonly used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy.
Alcohol ablation is commonly used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy.

Medical ablation sometimes involves laser or radio frequency therapies. During surgery, physicians use lasers in place of conventional scalpels to burn and cut tissue in addition to cauterizing blood vessels. Lasers are also frequently used for topical cosmetic procedures. Radio frequency ablation, also known as Cobalation®, uses a combination of radio waves and saline solution, creating an heated plasma field between two electrodes. Tissue subjected to this plasma field immediately vaporizes.

Cardiology, gynecology, and otolaryngology are some of the fields that eliminate abnormal tissue using controlled radio frequency ablation. Cardiologists correct abnormal heart rhythms by blocking irregular electrical pathways in the heart. Gynecologists may eliminate uterine fibroid tumors using Coblation®. Ear, nose and throat specialists commonly use this method for removing tonsils and adenoids or to correct palate defects that cause sleep apnea or snoring.

Medical ablation sometimes involves laser therapies.
Medical ablation sometimes involves laser therapies.

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