Ablation for Liver Cancer

Many patients cannot have surgery because their cancer is too advanced or because of an underlying liver disease such as cirrhosis. In some cases, tumors may be so small that non-surgical treatments may be equally effective.

Our interventional radiology team performs minimally invasive therapies that use imaging techniques such as CT, ultrasound, and MRI to guide the delivery of treatments directly to the tumor site. These therapies may be used alone, with other minimally invasive therapies, prior to surgery, or in combination with chemotherapy.

Patients who undergo minimally invasive therapies experience a significantly shorter hospital stay and recovery compared with surgery patients.


Thermal Ablation

Thermal ablation involves destroying tumors with heat or cold, delivered through a probe that is inserted directly into the tumor without an incision. There are several types of thermal ablation, including radiofrequency ablation, which uses radio waves to superheat the tumor, and cryoablation, which freezes the tumor. Other types of thermal ablation use lasers, microwaves, and focused ultrasound waves to kill tumor cells. The selection of heat or cold depends on the size, location, and shape of the tumor that is targeted. Thermal ablation is typically indicated for patients with up to three liver tumors.

The surgeons and interventional radiologists at City of Hope are experts in use of thermal ablation, which uses heat, cold, soundwaves or electrical currents to destroy tumor cells. These techniques include

  • Cryoablation - Very cold gasses pass through the probe to freeze the tumor, killing the cancer cells.
  • Radiofrequency Ablation - A high-frequency current heats the tumor and destroys the cancer cells.
  • Microwave Ablation - Microwaves transmitted through the probe heat and destroy the abnormal tissue.
  • Nano-knife Treatment – A special instrument sends an electrical current through the tumor, destroying cancer cells.

Interventional radiologists can perform such thermal ablations using needles without incisions, killing cancers usually as outpatient treatment. Our surgeons can use these techniques in the operating room either laparoscopically, or in combination with the removal of large tumors to allow for complete treatment for cases with multiple tumors.

Chemical Ablation

Another, less commonly used form of ablation involves the injection of cancer-killing chemicals such as pure alcohol (ethanol) or acid directly into the tumor. As with thermal ablation, chemical ablation may be recommended for patients with up to three liver tumors. Chemical ablation is only selected for patients who are not candidates for thermal ablation.