Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

General Information | Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation | What to Expect

General information General Information

About Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a new procedure for treating inoperable liver, kidney, lung, and bone tumors using an electrical current.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an FDA approved, non-surgical procedure used to treat cancer in patients who cannot have the tumors surgically removed. It may be used to treat tumors that have returned after surgery or haven’t responded to chemotherapy. Radiofrequency ablation may also be used to reduce the number of tumors prior to surgery or to control primary cancer prior to an organ transplant.

With radiofrequency ablation, a needle is inserted into the tumor using ultrasound or CT guidance. When the needle is properly placed within the tumor, multiple electrodes are extended from an insulated needle tip. When fully extended, the electrodes form an umbrella shape to create more contact points within the tumor. A radiofrequency current is then run through the electrodes to essentially cook the tumor tissue. At the same time, blood vessels feeding the tumor are cauterized. This prevents any significant amount of blood loss. The body eventually replaces the dead tumor cells with scar tissue, which will eventually shrink.

Radiofrequency ablation is a very safe procedure. Complications occur in less than 3% of cases. It can be used to treat tumors that are visible with imaging techniques and are about 5 cm in diameter or less. Since it has few side effects and damages very little healthy tissue, this procedure can be performed repeatedly to help control both primary and secondary cancers.

In most cases radiofrequency ablation won’t cure the cancer. It destroys tumors, improves the quality of life, and often extends life for people with inoperable cancer.

Radiofrequency Ablation vs. Other Non-Surgical Treatments

Not everyone with inoperable cancer is a candidate for this procedure. If you are a candidate, your doctor may recommend this procedure over other non-surgical treatments for the following reasons:

  • Tumors are less than 2 inches in diameter and fewer than four in number
  • Treatment is regional (e.g. only affects the liver)
  • Milder side effects
  • No or very short recovery
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Can be repeated
  • Preliminary survival rates are encouraging

Risks Involved in Radiofrequency Ablation

The risks involved in radiofrequency ablation include the following:

  • Bruising, bleeding, or infection at the puncture site
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast material used during the procedure
  • Radiation exposure; however, it is well below the level that generally causes adverse affects
  • Injury to nearby structures, such as the intestines, gallbladder, bile ducts, or lungs, may occur. An injury to the diaphragm may also occur, which may cause right shoulder pain. These injuries are uncommon when ultrasound or CT imaging guidance is used.

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Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation

Procedure Locations

Consultations for radiofrequency ablation are done at RIA Endovascular.

The procedure is performed at the following Radiology Imaging Associates partner hospitals in the Denver, Colorado area:

Call 720-493-3406 to schedule a consultation.


To schedule a consultation to discuss RFA, call 720-493-3406.

  • Littleton Adventist Hospital
  • Porter Adventist Hospital
  • Sky Ridge Medical Center
  • Swedish Medical Center

Insurance Coverage

Radiofrequency ablation is usually covered by insurance. Check with your insurance company to be sure. Please bring your insurance card with you to your consultation.

Conditions to Let Us Know About

When you have your consultation for radiofrequency ablation, let the radiologist or nurse know if any of the following circumstances apply to you:

  • Previous reaction to iodine/CT or X-ray contrast
  • Previous reaction to anesthesia
  • Coagulation disorder or taking blood thinning medication
  • Currently pregnant or nursing

Preparation Guidelines

If you are a candidate for radiofrequency ablation, you will be given detailed preparation guidelines. Following are some of the basic guidelines; however, you may receive additional or differing guidelines based on your specific situation. Please contact us at 720-493-3406 if you have any questions.

  • taking blood-thinning medications 3-5 days before the procedure (contact your doctor first to ensure it’s safe).
  • Do not eat or drink anything but clear liquids for 8 hours before the procedure; do not drink anything for 4 hours before the procedure.
  • Take routine medications with sips of water.
  • Prepare for an overnight stay in the hospital.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home from the procedure.

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What to Expect What to Expect

Before the Procedure

Before scheduling the procedure, an interventional radiologist must determine if you are a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation. You or your doctor will need to supply your medical records and prior test results so your eligibility can be determined.

If you appear to be a candidate, you will undergo additional exams including a blood test and a CT scan. These exams will help the interventional radiologist confirm your eligibility for radiofrequency ablation and plan your treatment.

During the Procedure

Here is generally what will happen during radiofrequency ablation:

  1. You will change into a gown.
  2. A technologist will answer your questions then start an intravenous (IV) line in your arm.
  3. The technologist will set up various devices so your heart rate and blood pressure can be monitored throughout the procedure.
  4. You will receive either intravenous conscious sedation to help you relax and eliminate discomfort or general anesthesia.
  5. The interventional radiologist will use ultrasound or a CT scanner to precisely locate the tumor. Electromagnetic guidance is available at some of the hospitals. If ultrasound is used, a warm gel will be applied to your skin. If a CT scanner is used, contrast material will be injected through your IV.
  6. Local anesthetic will be applied to the skin where an incision will be made for the needle to pass through.
  7. Grounding pads for the electrical current will be placed on your abdomen or legs.
  8. Using the ultrasound or CT images as guidance, the interventional radiologist will make the incision and then carefully insert the needle into the tumor.
  9. When the needle is properly positioned, the electrodes will be deployed into the tumor.
  10. After the electrodes are fully extended, an electric current will be passed through the needle into the electrodes by a radiofrequency generator. The radiofrequency current will be applied long enough to destroy the cancer cells and a small rim of surrounding healthy tissue.
  11. The electrodes will then be withdrawn and the needle removed. The incision will be cleaned and taped.

Larger tumors may require more than one needle insertion to kill the entire tumor. It takes 15-30 minutes for each needle insertion. It takes 20-30 minutes for the electrical current application. The entire procedure will take 1-3 hours, depending on the number of tumors and their sizes.

After all the tumors have been treated, you will spend several hours in a recovery area. You may be given medication to control pain and nausea as the sedation wears off. You will then spend the night in the hospital.

After the Procedure


Most patients return to their normal activities the day after the treatment. Patients may experience pain after the procedure, but it usually subsides within a week and is manageable with prescription medication.

Some patients will develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, a few days after the procedure. These symptoms usually last about five days. The fever can be controlled with acetaminophen (Tylenol).


Within a week after the procedure, you may have a CT scan to ensure all the tumor tissue has been destroyed. You will have a CT scan every three months to check for new tumors or tumor recurrence.

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