Disclaimer: Consult with a doctor before deciding on a treatment plan for cancer or any other disease.

Quick Summary

Except in certain specific situations, Radiofrequency Ablation is not a recommended therapy for cancer treatment because it can leave behind scars that can act as armor to protect any cancer cells that are left behind following the procedure.

Detailed Information

Americans are infatuated with new technologies in medicine and sometimes that infatuation can lead them to agree to therapies that may, at best, be ineffective, or at worst, be dangerous or deadly [9]. Radiofrequency ablation therapy is an “old” technology that has been used for decades to treat a variety of illnesses. Today, researchers are just beginning to explore its use in treating cancer [1]. The use of radiofrequency ablation, as with surgery to remove cancerous tumors, needs careful consideration. When tumors are removed from the body using surgery or radiofrequency ablation, this leads to the development of scar tissue. This scar tissue can act like armor to protect any cancerous cells left behind by removal procedures, making it even more difficult for effective treatments to gain access to the cancer cells that were left behind [10].  


Radiofrequency ablation, a modified electrocautery technique, has been in use in conventional medicine for 34 years at the time of this writing. The technology works by driving ionic currents through tissues which creates electrical resistance and heat that ultimately causes cancer cells to die. It can also be used to target other dysfunctional tissues (such as the electrical conduction system of the heart) to achieve various surgical goals without doing invasive surgery [1]. Doctors have used it to treat the following conditions:


  • Nerve-related chronic pain
  • Osteoid Osteoma (benign bone tumor) [7]
  • Prostate hypertrophy [8]
  • Chronic pain
  • Soft tissue debulking
  • Liver cancer tumor removal [1][5]
  • Metastatic bone cancer [1]
  • Cardiac arrhythmias [1][6].


Radiofrequency ablation is minimally invasive and inexpensive and recently practitioners of conventional medicine have started to use this treatment for tumor ablation in the following organs:


  • Liver [3]
  • Kidney
  • Adrenal gland
  • Bone
  • Lung
  • Breast [1]


There are currently four different radiofrequency ablation systems in production in the United States. All are approved by the FDA for soft-tissue ablation. One model is cleared for unresectable liver tumors (liver tumors that can’t be removed with surgery). Another has been approved for use on bone metastases [1].


Radiofrequency ablation is only recommended by the FDA for use in the treatment of tumors that can’t be treated with conventional surgical options [1]. Surgery and radiofrequency ablation may cause the development of scar tissue around the tumor which can cause the build-up of a protein armor that makes it difficult or impossible for the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells [10].

Safety and Effectiveness

Advances in radiofrequency ablation have resulted in lower complication rates and minimal collateral tissue damage although the heating of tumors can lead to burns and damage to nearby tissues and organs. The four radiofrequency devices currently on the market work in different ways. They all use needle electrodes, generators, and special algorithms to try to achieve the best results [1].

How Radiofrequency Ablation Is Administered

Radiofrequency ablation can be administered using one of several different devices that all cause cancer cell death. The most successful administration methods include:


  • The use of slow or pulsed heating, multi-probe array electrodes
  • Internal electrode cooling [3]
  • Saline infusion [1][2][4][5]


Radiofrequency ablation may be performed laparoscopically or using traditional, open-surgical approaches. In some cases, when tumor growth is near the surface of the skin, it may also be appropriate to do the procedure through the skin (percutaneously). The tumor can’t be located near the bowel or other organs that could be damaged by the heat. Some doctors may recommend that patients have general anesthesia while other patients may need only sedation [1]

Possible Negative Effects

Patients who undergo this type of therapy can be injured by it. The thermal conduction/heat can burn nearby organs and tissues including the bowel or the diaphragm [1]. The use of general anesthesia is associated with a variety of risks including death.



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[1] Friedman, M., Mikityansky, I., Kam, A., Libutti, S. K., Walther, M. M., Neeman, Z. Locklin, J. K., Wood, B. J. (2004). Radiofrequency Ablation of Cancer. Retrieved April 24, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2408956/


[2] Goldberg, S. N., Gazelle, G. S., Dawson, S. L. (1995). Tissue ablation with radiofrequency using multiprobe arrays. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9419623


[3] Lencioni, R., Goletti, O., Amillotta, N. (1998). Radio-frequency thermal ablation of liver metastases with a cooled-tip electrode needle: results of a pilot clinical trial. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9724440


[4] Miao, Y., Ni, Y., Yu, J. (2001). An ex vivo study on radiofrequency tissue ablation: increased lesion size by using an “expandable-wet” electrode. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11511912


[5] Livraghi, T., Goldberg, S. N., Monti, F. (1997). Saline-enhanced radio-frequency tissue ablation in the treatment of liver metastases. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8988212


[6] Calkins, H., Epstein, A., Packer, D. (2000). Catheter ablation of ventricular tachycardia in patients with structural heart disease using cooled radio-frequency energy: results of a prospective multicenter study. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10841242


[7] Vandershueren, G. M., Taminiau, A. H., Obermann, W. R. (2002). Osteoid osteoma: clinical results with thermocoagulation. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12091665


[8] Hindley, R. G., Mostafid, A. H., Brierly, R. D. (2001). The 2-year symptomatic and urodynamic results of a prospective randomized trial of interstitial radiofrequency therapy vs. transurethral resection of the prostate. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11488732


[9] Tan, L. H. T. & Ong, K. L. (2002). The impact of medical technology on healthcare today. Retrieved April 24, 2018 from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/102490790200900410


[10] Griffin, G. E. (1974). World Without Cancer: The Story of Vitamin B17, 3rd Ed.. American Media.