What Is Renal Cryoablation?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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When tumors are discovered in the kidneys via radiology, doctors need to perform a biopsy to determine malignancy and an excision to remove the potentially life-threatening growths. Until recent decades, the tumor was likely to be cut out of the body in an invasive process known as extirpation. In 2011, however, doctors are likely to use renal cryoablation for small tumors under 1.5 inches (about 4 cm) in diameter. This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a laparoscopic camera and perhaps even ultrasound guidance to isolate the tumors and destroy them with a frozen probe.

Though the procedure may vary according to a doctor or hospital's protocol, a basic renal cryoablation typically involves just a day of in-patient recovery. First, a grid is laid over the patient's tumorous kidney and CT imaging is undergone. With this grid, the skin can be marked with the exact location of the kidney to be treated. Then, after a biopsy needle samples the potentially cancerous tissue, a laparoscopic camera and a handful of frozen probes are inserted into the kidney to perform a series of cryoablation freezes of the tumors.


The primary reason a patient must undergo renal cryoablation, also known as renal cryotherapy, is due to renal cell carcinoma, the most common cancer of the kidneys. Affecting mostly men in later life, a doctor may suspect kidney cancer if a patient is complaining of pain in the torso, bloody urine, weight loss and testicular discomfort. Radiology typically can identify the presence of abnormal growths, but it cannot determine malignancy. This must be performed during a biopsy, during which time the growth is often removed for testing.

A common alternative to renal cryoablation is performed in a similar fashion, only with heat from a high radio frequency to kill the cancerous growth instead of frozen probes. This procedure is referred to as radio frequency (RF) ablation. These techniques can be used not only for renal tumors, but also for those discovered in the lungs, liver, colon and prostate.

During renal cryoablation and RF ablation, patients are usually under general anesthesia. The procedure can last as long as three hours, with the surgeon often using a tool called an ultrasound probe to find the exact location of each kidney growth. During the ablation, the probe then helps the doctor determine if all of each tumor has been successfully destroyed. Patients have less than a 5 percent chance of recurrent growth with cryoablation, according to the Kidney Cancer Institute, with just one in 10 patients experiencing any complications.


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