Intracavitary hyperthermic tumor ablation is a treatment that uses directed heat to destroy cancer cells in tumors. This is a method of destroying the tumor without actually removing it, sometimes replacing more invasive techniques. Also called Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) because microwaves are used to generate the heart, this technique is often done in patients when surgery is not an option, or when surgery or other treatments have failed. This method has become a major treatment approach for small tumors for which operative intervention is often dangerous. While RFA can be used to treat various tumors (brain, pancreas, lung, breast, etc.), it is currently primarily used in the treatment of liver cancer. While not considered a cure, survival rates due to RFA can equal those of other treatments.
The RFA procedure provides a non-surgical, non-drug option for the treatment of mesothelioma tumors. It allows for controlled treatment of the cancerous cells without damaging surrounding tissue. RFA is a minimally invasive procedure usually performed on an outpatient basis using conscious sedation (patient is awake, but drowsy and numb). This can be performed by an interventional radiologist in hospitals, physician offices, or other treatment centers. RFA treatment can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as several hours, depending on the tumor specifics (size, location, and number) and any unexpected complications.
The procedure involves the use of high-energy radio waves which produce very high heat that effectively “cooks” the cancerous tumor. The radio waves are actually a high-frequency alternating current produced by an electrical generator. This current is passed through a needle-like probe with an electrode tip. This probe is controlled by a radiologist who places the tip into the tumor and delivers the current directly into the cancerous cells. Prior to insertion of the probe, the tumor is located by use of ultrasound, CT, or MRI equipment. This same equipment is then used by the radiologist to guide the probe for proper administration and destruction of the cancerous cells.
As with all treatments, there are risks associated with RFA. Although rare, one potential risk is that of the needle puncturing an organ, which could require reparative surgery. In RFA lung treatment, there is a potential risk of pneumothorax (air or gas in the chest) which could need to be drained with a chest tube. Minor risks include infection, bruising or bleeding at the probe insertion site.
RFA is sometimes used to treat other conditions including, but not limited to, irregular heartbeats, snoring, and arthritis pain. However, when radiofrequency ablation is used in treating these conditions, the radio waves are used to administer a manipulated electrical charge rather than the intense heat involved in hyperthermic ablation.
Thermotherapy is an adjuvant cancer therapy where a patient’s body temperature is raised in specific areas prior to or in conjunction with another form of cancer treatment. By inducing localized hyperthermia infected cells are more prone to undergo apoptosis because they have a compact and less effective vascular structure which cannot process temperature increases as efficiently as healthy cells. If they do not die from the induction of heat, the rise in temperature may cause the diseased cells to become more susceptible to radiation and certain chemotherapy treatments.
The opposite, in some sense, to hyperthermic ablation, is cryoablation, which uses cold. Cold material is applied to the tissue that the doctors wish to remove. The flesh is killed as ice disrupts the cell membranes.
Cryoablation is not often used, but it has found some use in treatment of lung, liver, breast, kidney and prostate cancer. Some doctors recently published a paper on cryoablation for mesothelioma treatment. The cryoablation is used as an adjunctive as part of a multimodality therapy.