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What Is Thermal Ablation?

Article Details
  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Thermal ablation is a procedure used as an alternative treatment for cancer and some types of uterine bleeding. This procedure is often chosen when the surgical removal of tumors and tissue removal are not necessary, or is not possible. Microwave and radio frequency are the two versions of this procedure.

Microwave thermal ablation is a procedure that involves using microwave frequencies. A probe is guided to the location of the tumor and is inserted into it. The probe is then heated using microwaves.

Radio frequency ablation (RFA) is the second type of thermal ablation. Similar to microwave ablation, a probe is used to deliver heat to the target. With this type, however, radio frequency waves are used to create the heat necessary to kill the unwanted cells.

Thermal ablation are most often used on lung, kidney, breast, and other tumors, but the procedure can also be used for treating abnormal uterine bleeding that may otherwise result in a hysterectomy. For uterine bleeding, this procedure is also called endometrial ablation or thermal balloon ablation. A special balloon is inserted into the uterus and the balloon is filled with a sterile fluid. Once expanded, the balloon is heated, and this heat burns the endometrial lining of the uterus. Over the course of two to three weeks, the scalded lining will shed and discharge from the body, allowing the growth of a new endometrial lining.

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This treatment procedure can also be used in cardiology, especially when abnormal electrical pathways of heart tissue need to be destroyed. Using thermal ablation in cardiology, however, is different from uterine bleeding or tumor destruction. A catheter equipped with an electrode is threaded to the target area, usually through a vein close to the area. RFA, in particular, is commonly used. It has been beneficial in treating conditions such as cardiac arrhythmia, atrial flutter, and some types of tachycardia when tissue blockage is present.

One of the biggest issues with thermal ablation is the number of times a patient will need the procedure done. In some cases, the procedure may not remove all tissue or kill the entire tumor. The size of the tumor plays a large role in the success of the procedure. For tissue removal, the amount and exact location of the tissue blockage will affect the number of ablation treatments.

The heat used during this procedure is not usually felt by the patient. Although the procedure is an alternative to surgery, some cases do require the use of local or general anesthesia. The procedure itself does not interfere with current treatments, such as medications, but sedatives or anesthesia could cause an interaction. Doctors should be aware of all medications that are being taken, regardless of their relation to the condition the procedure is going to treat.

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