Overview and Indications

Ablation surgery is a minimally invasive surgical approach used to destroy tumors by “burning” or “freezing” them. This approach may be used for certain patients, such as those with tumors no larger than three centimeters or for whom surgery is not a good option. Ablation is performed by inserting a needle or thin probe into the tumor through the skin. The needle or probe is guided with an ultrasound, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Different types of ablation include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation, which uses high frequency radio waves to heat the tumor and destroy the cancer cells
  • Cryosurgery, which destroys a tumor by freezing it using cold gasses

The most common cancers treated by this method are lung cancer, liver cancer and kidney (renal) cancer. Other cancers can also be treated provided they are accessible and of appropriate size.

Recently, urologic surgeons at the USC Institute of Urology, part of Keck Medicine of USC, were the first in the world to use a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared laparoscopic device, the high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) surgical ablation system for ablating intra-abdominal tumors. The system enables surgeons to penetrate the abdominal cavity with keyhole cuts to eliminate tumors of four centimeters or less.