What is Liver Ablation?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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Liver ablation is a surgical treatment for liver cancer. This treatment uses a technique called radiofrequency ablation, in which high-frequency electrical current is used to destroy cancer cells. Radiofrequency liver ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that is an effective treatment option for many people with liver cancer, whether the tumor originated in the liver or metastasized from another location.

Radiofrequency liver ablation can be a good treatment for many types of people. In particular, it is an effective alternative to surgery and therefore is suitable for people who are not good surgical candidates. For example, if there are several small tumors that must be removed, if there are one or more tumors in a place not accessible via surgery, or if the patient is not in good enough health to undergo surgery, then radiofrequency ablation might be a good alternate option.

This cancer treatment relies on the use of radiofrequency equipment and medical imaging equipment. The medical imaging equipment used can be of several types, including magnetic resonance imaging, computer tomography or ultrasound, depending on the needs of the patient. This equipment is used during the procedure to guide electrodes into the tumor.


The radiofrequency equipment used during the liver ablation procedure is capable of generating high-frequency electrical current. This electrical current generates heat. The heat is capable of destroying cancer cells when directed into the patient’s tumor. This treatment does not destroy large amounts of healthy liver tissue, because healthy cells have a higher resistance to heat than do cancer cells. Therefore, the ablation treatment can destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue intact and unharmed.

At the same time that the cancer cells are being destroyed, radiofrequency energy also cauterizes and closes tiny blood vessels that feed the tumor. This greatly reduces the risk that the death of cancer cells might cause bleeding within the liver. Over time, the dead cancer cells are removed from the liver and are replaced by scar tissue.

In most cases, liver ablation can be carried out under a local anesthetic. In this type of ablation, the electrodes are passed through small incisions in the skin. When this technique is used, the patient is given an intravenous sedative to help him or her remain relaxed throughout. Depending on the size and number of tumors being destroyed, the procedure takes between one and three hours to complete.

It is normal to feel pain after radiofrequency ablation; usually this pain can be controlled with oral pain medication. For most people, the pain is gone within one week. Approximately one week after the procedure, the patient will undergo a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic imaging resonance (MRI) exam to determine how successful the ablation treatment has been. Further scans are carried out three to four times per year to determine whether any new tumors have appeared.


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