What is tumor ablation?

Tumor ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for kidney cancer.  It can be an alternative to surgery for patients with a few, small tumors in certain locations.  

Ablation uses heat or ice to destroy tumors.  Heating the tumor is done with “microwave ablation” or “radiofrequency ablation.”  Freezing the tumor is called “cryoablation.”  The dead tumor turns into a scar over time. 

How is tumor ablation done?

Tumor ablation is done by a specialized doctor, called an Interventional Radiologist, or IR.   The IR uses medical imaging to guide a skinny wand through a pinhole in the skin and into the tumor.  The tip of the wand is used to heat or freeze the tumor.  After the ablation, the IR removes the wand and puts a small bandage over the pinhole.  

Tumor ablation may be done with medicine to make you drowsy or with anesthesia to put you to sleep.  Discuss your options with your doctor.

KIDNEY TUMOR ABLATION (using cryoablation)  

Figure 1: The IR uses Ultrasound or CT guidance to locate the kidney tumor and map out the path to place the ablation wand.

Figure 2: After numbing the skin, the IR inserts the skinny ablation wand through the back and into the tumor inside the kidney.

Figure 3: Diagram showing kidney anatomy, tumor and ablation wand.

Figure 4: An ice ball forms around the wand to destroy the tumor.  Over time, the dead tumor leaves a scar.

What are the treatment alternatives?

Your treatment options are based on your overall health, lifestyle and the size, location and number of tumors you have.  Possible alternatives include:

  • Alternative 1: not doing any procedure. The advantage of this is avoiding a procedure. The disadvantage of this is that the cancer may continue to grow without treatment.
  • Alternative 2:  external beam radiation involves radiation directed at the tumor from a machine outside the body.
  • Alternative 3: surgery to have the tumor cut out.  Surgery is only for patients who are healthy enough for surgery.

What are the risks of kidney tumor ablation?

Kidney tumor ablation is generally a safe procedure when done by a specialized doctor. 

Major Complication Risks

  • Major complications of ablation are rare.  They include internal bleeding, infection, skin burns, and damage to areas surrounding the kidney. Major complications occur in

  • Death is extremely rare, occurring in

Minor Complication Risks

experience minor complications such as temporary pain, fever, minor bleeding, or blood in urine.

Post Procedure

What happens after my tumor ablation procedure?

1. You will be monitored in the recovery area and given medicine as needed to help with pain or nausea

2. Some people can go home after a few hours of monitoring. Other people stay overnight in the hospital. 

3. You will have another MRI or CT after treatment to see how you responded. 

4. After that, you will have a clinic visit with your IR to discuss your response and the next steps. 

When should I call my doctor or 911?

You have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

You have  uncontrollable pain 

You have sudden trouble breathing or shortness of breath

You have blood in your urine that is severe or getting worse

You see new skin changes like redness or darkening of the skin at the treatment site

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