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Interventional Radiology: Tumor Ablation

The field of minimally-invasive, image-guided cancer therapies is rapidly growing. As new methods are developed and adopted by doctors, patients have an increasing number of options available to them and a greater chance of successful treatment. IVC is the only independent interventional radiology practice in the Northwest that specializes in treating patients with these cutting-edge techniques. Our physicians have helped thousands of men and women over the last decade achieve better health and a better quality of life. Call us today at 503-612-0498 to schedule an appointment with an interventional radiologist.

What Is Thermal Ablation of a Tumor?

Thermal ablation is one of the many treatment options available to patients of IVC. During tumor ablation, thermal energy is used to heat or cool the cells of the tumor to a toxic level.

Hyperthermic ablation raises the temperature within the targeted tissue, causing blood vessels to dilate, blood flow to increase and the body’s heat shock response to engage. When the optimal treatment temperature is reached, irreversible damage and cell death occur.

Hypothermic ablation takes the opposite approach, destroying tumor cells with low temperatures that induce ice crystal formation and cell death via osmotic shock. The extreme high and low temperatures of ablation therapy shrink cancer tumors without the need for more invasive surgery.

How Does Thermal Ablation Work?

Thermal ablation of a tumor can be accomplished in several different ways. At IVC, our interventional radiologists treat cancer with the following ablation modalities:

Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency (RF) ablation is one of the most commonly used ablation methods for small, localized tumors. During the procedure, high-frequency electrical currents are channeled through an electrode to a needle inserted into the tumor. This creates a small region of heat around the needle, destroying the cancer cells while preserving the surrounding healthy tissue.

Microwave Ablation

Microwave ablation uses the energy from electromagnetic waves to heat and destroy the cells of a tumor. As in RF ablation, the energy is delivered to the targeted area through a needle-like applicator inserted into the tumor. The microwaves themselves radiate from an interstitial antenna. Microwaves can produce larger ablation zones in less time than RF, though both techniques produce similar results.


Cryoablation uses argon gas or liquid nitrogen to generate a rapid cooling effect in the tumor. During the procedure, a thin metal probe is guided into the tumor and cooled to temperatures below freezing. A ball of ice forms at the end of the probe, freezing the cancer cells and eventually causing them to rupture and die. Many cryoablation procedures maximize cell death by cycling through a succession of freezing and thawing phases.

What Kind of Tumors Can Thermal Ablation Treat?

Thermal ablation can be an effective treatment for many types of cancer. The two most common types are:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of cancer that originates in the liver
  • Colon cancer that spreads (metastasizes) from the colon to the liver

Thermal ablation is also used to treat cancers of the kidney, bone and lung. Patients with cancer that started in another part of the body and has spread to these areas may benefit from tumor ablation as well.

What Are the Benefits of Thermal Ablation?

Thermal ablation offers patients a minimally-invasive treatment option that involves less discomfort, lower complication rates and shorter recovery times than surgery. The procedure is relatively quick and often done on an outpatient basis. Chemotherapy may be resumed almost immediately for patients who require it. Ablation can be used to treat multiple tumors concurrently and can be repeated if new cancer appears. In studies, more than half of liver tumors treated by ablation have not recurred. The success rate for completely eliminating small liver tumors with ablation is higher than 85 percent.

Am I a Good Candidate for Thermal Ablation?

Your doctor might recommend a thermal ablation technique if:

  • The tumor is small
  • The position of the tumor makes surgery difficult
  • Poor health or reduced liver function makes surgery inadvisable
  • You have several small tumors that are too spread out to be removed surgically
  • You have tumors that have not responded to chemotherapy or radiation
  • You have tumors that have recurred after being removed surgically
  • You prefer to avoid conventional surgery

How Is Thermal Ablation Performed?

Ablation and other image-guided, minimally invasive procedures are often performed by a specially trained interventional radiologist. Ablation can be done under general anesthesia or local anesthesia with sedation. Your interventional radiologist will use imaging technology to insert the probe through the skin and advance it to the site of the tumor. Once the probe is in place, it will be heated or cooled to the targeted treatment temperature. A larger tumor may require the probe to be repositioned for multiple ablations or the use of multiple probes simultaneously in different parts of the tumor. At the end of the procedure, the probe will be removed and the area will be dressed. Each individual ablation takes approximately 10 to 30 minutes. The entire procedure typically takes one to three hours to complete.

What Is Recovery Like After Thermal Ablation?

Immediately after a thermal ablation procedure, you may experience some discomfort or mild pain that can be managed with medication. Some patients temporarily develop flu-like symptoms. You should be able to return to your usual activities within a few days. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) of the treated area will be performed within a few hours to a month after a thermal ablation procedure. A radiologist will interpret these scans to ensure the tumor tissue has been fully treated and detect any complications. Follow-up CT or MRI scans every three to four months are often recommended to monitor for new tumors.

Can Thermal Ablation Be Combined With Other Treatments?

Thermal ablation does not prevent patients from having other forms of treatment. As long as you are eligible for another treatment – such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hepatic arterial infusion therapy, alcohol ablation or chemoembolization – thermal ablation can be part of a comprehensive, multimodal approach to cancer treatment.

Portland’s Center for Advanced Cancer Care

IVC is a comprehensive medical practice specializing in minimally-invasive solutions to diagnose and treat cancer. Our interventional radiologists work in collaboration with surgeons and oncologists to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient. Whether or not you are a candidate for thermal ablation will depend on your diagnosis and an evaluation with your interventional radiologist. Call IVC today at 503-612-0498 to schedule a consultation.

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We are announcing that Interventional and Vascular Consultants will be closing as of March 10, 2023.

We would like to thank you for the trust you have given us over the years, participating in your healthcare needs has been a privilege.

To assist in a smooth transition to a new provider, you may access your records from your MyHealth account or request a copy of medical records by clicking the link below and completing the Release of Information form.

Medical Records Release Form

Please know that we have greatly valued our relationship with you and wish you the best.


Jason Bauer, MD RVT
Michael Pfister, MD RVT

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