Radiofrequency Ablation for Cancer Treatment


Last Updated November 2nd, 2023

What is radiofrequency ablation? 

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses high-frequency electrical energy to kill cancer cells.


Research shows that passing a radiofrequency current at temperatures of 125 degrees Fahrenheit kills tumor cells.


The procedure is mainly used to reduce the discomfort and pain caused by cancer. Heat from the radiofrequency current further helps to close small blood vessels. This reduces the risk of bleeding.   

Why do you need radiofrequency ablation? 

Radiofrequency ablation is recommended if the cancer tumor is too small or in case your overall health cannot support other rigorous treatments such as chemotherapy.

Your oncologist may recommend radiofrequency ablation as the only treatment for your cancer due to the following:

  • In case of several small tumors
  • If you react to general anesthetic
  • In case surgery is ruled out because of the position of the tumor. For example, if it is next to a major blood vessel

Radiofrequency ablation is more effective in treating small cancers of about 3 cm.

However, it has also been successfully used in treating large tumors.

Some of the cancers treated using radiofrequency ablation include:

  • Kidney tumors
  • Breast tumors
  • Lung tumors
  • Pre-cancerous cells linked to Barrett’s esophagus
  • Lung metastasis
  • Liver metastases

Preparing for radiofrequency ablation 

Before you can have an ablation procedure, your physician will schedule a consultation with the healthcare team that may include a nurse practitioner and imagining physicians.

The healthcare team will determine if you are a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation.

The team will be interested in your overall health and the benefits and risks associated with the procedure.

Your primary care provider will inform you of what to expect during radiofrequency ablation.

The nurse or practitioner will go through your medical history.

If you are on any medication or are allergic to certain medications, let your healthcare team know of this.

Once the medical care team has ascertained you are a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation, they will schedule the procedure.

You will be instructed on what to do and what to avoid as part of your preparation for the procedure.

About two weeks before radiofrequency ablation, your doctor will ask you to stop taking certain medications such as blood thinning medication.

If you are allergic to any medication, let your healthcare provider know of this. Some medicines that may give you allergic reactions include:

  • Arthritis medication
  • Warfarin and other blood-thinning medication
  • Clopidogrel

Your primary care physician may require additional scans or blood tests before radiofrequency ablation.

Avoid eating anything past midnight on the scheduled day of the procedure.

During the procedure 

CT-scan-machineWhen the time is right, you will be wheeled to the CT scan room.


You will meet the healthcare team that consists of an anesthesiologist, radiology nurse, interventional imaging physician, and technologist.


Your imaging physician will go over the procedure with you once more. He or she will carefully explain the benefits and risks that come with radiofrequency ablation.


If you have questions about the procedure, make sure you ask them.


You will be asked to give your consent for the procedure by signing a form. Please read through it carefully before signing. 


Your anesthesiologist will explain to you the medication they plan on using for managing pain during the procedure. That means you will be asleep during radiofrequency ablation.


The healthcare team will place you on a CT scan table and position you depending on your body under treatment. They will ensure you are fully comfortable as you await the procedure. 


The radiology nurse will attach monitoring devices to keep track of your vitals during the procedure.


The vitals being monitored include breathing, blood pressure, oxygen, and heart rate.


The interventional imaging physician will insert the ablation probe. You are likely to feel uncomfortable as he places the probe in place.


You will not feel any heat or pain during the procedure. 


Using the scan, your radiologist or surgeon inserts a wide needle of between 1 and 2 millimeters through the skin and into the tumor.


In case of multiple tumors or a large-sized tumor, the surgeon may require additional RFA needles.


The size of your tumor will determine the heat that your surgeon can apply with the probe.


The procedure may last a few hours depending on the size and location of the tumor being treated. However, it takes about 15 minutes to heat the tumor.


The healthcare team spends more time in case of multiple ablations. 


Once the procedure is complete, the surgeon removes the needle.


Your nurse will dress up the area.  

After the procedure 

Once the tumor has been destroyed, you will undergo a further CT scan. The goal is for the healthcare team to assess the site of ablation.


You will be moved to an observation room, and the healthcare team will assess your progress overnight.


The nurse practitioner and intervention imaging physician will check on you from time to time to ensure you are comfortable and that you have not developed any complications.


The interventional imaging physician may request X-rays and blood work post-procedure.


Your nurse practitioner will organize follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider before you are discharged.


You will also be instructed on the activities to avoid as part of your journey to recovery after radiofrequency ablation.


Make sure you have your spouse, friend, or relative pick you up from the healthcare facility.


Liaise with your healthcare provider to establish whether they offer transport services after radiofrequency ablation. 


Some people may return home on the same day after radiofrequency ablation. Others require being observed overnight to rule out any health complications.


You are likely to experience mild pain after the procedure but this should improve with time.


If the pain makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to your physician, he or she may recommend over-the-counter medication to manage such pain.


There is no definite timeline for recovery after radiofrequency ablation.


Your recovery will depend on several factors, including the number of ablations you have had, age, whether you have other preexisting conditions, and if there were any complications after the procedure.  

Benefits of radiofrequency ablation 

Radiofrequency ablation for cancer treatment comes with the following advantages: 

  • Minimally invasive – Radiofrequency ablation involves minimally invasive surgery. That means the surgical team only needs to make a very small incision on the skin 
  • Quick recovery – Since radiofrequency ablation takes a very short time to administer, the recovery time is also shorter
  • Less expensive – Radiofrequency ablation for cancer treatment is more affordable compared to other treatments such as chemotherapy 

Your healthcare team can repeat radiofrequency ablation multiple times to treat recurring tumors.

Side effects 

You are likely to present with the following side effects after radiofrequency ablation: 

Pain or discomfort

As the surgeon guides the needle through the skin and into the tumor, you will experience mild pain or discomfort. Your surgeon may recommend painkillers for such pain if it is a bother to you. If the painkiller does not work, let your healthcare team know of this. In case the pain worsens or persists 1 to 2 weeks after the procedure, you need to inform your healthcare team as well. 


You could bleed from the needles used in radiofrequency ablation. This is however rare. The healthcare team shall monitor you during radiofrequency ablation and after the procedure to minimize the risk of bleeding. In case of bleeding, your surgeon may recommend an angiogram to manage the bleeding.  


Some people present with flu-like symptoms after radiofrequency ablation. This begins a few days post-ablation and may persist for about a week. During this time, you will feel sick and may also experience body canes. This is a post-ablation syndrome. Your surgeon will explain this side effect to you. The healthcare team will give recommendations on the medication that can manage your symptoms. If the symptoms persist after a week or your temperature exceeds 38°C, get in touch with your healthcare provider immediately. This could be a sign of an infection that requires urgent medical attention. 

Damage to nearby organs

There is a small risk of damaging adjacent organs to the tumor such as the kidney, liver, or lungs.


This remains a key concern for the healthcare team. However, only about 2% of people undergoing radiofrequency ablation present with bleeding. The risk of bleeding varies based on the location of your tumor. Your healthcare team will explore this with you before the procedure.

Risk of cancer recurring

In case radiofrequency ablation does not get rid of your tumor completely, there is the risk of such cancer recurring. Your healthcare team may recommend you undergo further treatment in the same area. This may happen several weeks following the initial procedure.

Cost of radiofrequency ablation in India 

The cost of a radiofrequency ablation procedure for cancer treatment in India ranges between Rs. 88,800 and Rs. 1,18,400.

The difference in cost depends on the city where the procedure takes place, the experience level of your surgeon, the type of hospital your overall medical history, and comorbidities.

If you decide to have a radiofrequency ablation treatment in India, the cost of such a procedure will be affected by the following factors:

Surgical techniques

Different healthcare facilities in India that conduct radiofrequency ablation treatment have adopted novel technologies and techniques to enhance patient care and the success rate of such procedures. Adoption of such innovative advancements in radiofrequency ablation will probably increase the cost of radiofrequency ablation.

Location of the healthcare facility

The cost of radiofrequency ablation in metro cities across India is higher than that charged by healthcare facilities in remote parts of the country. The difference in cost is because of the availability of state-of-the-art facilities and highly experienced healthcare teams in the metro cities. The cost of living in metro cities is also higher and this will affect the overall cost of healthcare.

Surgeon’s fees

Experience, certified, and skilled surgeons can perform radiofrequency ablation procedures successfully. They are likely to charge more compared to general surgeons or those will limited experience in this area.

Surgical facility

Accredited surgical facilities that offer radiofrequency ablation treatment will charge more than non-accredited facilities. The medical staff at accredited facilities is highly qualified and skilled.


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