What is tumor ablation?

Tumor ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for 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 lung 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.

LUNG TUMOR ABLATION (using cryoablation)  

Figure 1: Ablation wand freezing tumor

Figure 2: After numbing the skin, the doctor places the cryoablation wand in the lung tumor through a pinhole.

Figure 3: The ice ball forms around the want to destroy the tumor.

Figure 4:  The wand is removed and the patient leaves with a bandage.  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 lung tumor ablation?

Lung 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 lung. Major complications occur in

  • Death is extremely rare, occurring in

Minor Complication Risks

Minor complications of ablation occur in 

Potential minor complications include temporary pain, fever, minor bleeding, and coughing up blood.

Other Risk

Tumor ablation in the lung carries a IN chance that part of the lung will deflate a little bit or collapse.  Usually this heals on its own. Sometimes the doctor needs to inflate the lung with a tiny tube (image right). Rarely the doctor has to leave a tube over night to help the lung inflate and heal. 

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 bleeding or swelling at the treatment site.

You have sudden trouble breathing or shortness of breath.


You have blood with coughing

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

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

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