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Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) of Liver Tumors

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an exciting approach to destroying inoperable primary or metastatic tumors in the liver.

With ultrasound guidance, we insert a probe through the liver tissue into the tumor. This probe delivers high frequency alternating electrical current precisely at the site of the tumor. The current generates heat that literally burns out the tumor.

Benefits of RFA

Proven technology

  • RFA technology has been used in thousands of people in the United States and Europe.
  • Since the RFA program at UPMC began in 1999, hundreds of patients have received this form of therapy at the Liver Cancer Center.

Minimally invasive

  • A major advantage of RFA is that the procedure can often be done using minimally invasive surgery.

Types of RFA Procedures

The approaches to RFA include one of the following:

  • Percutaneous (through the skin without an operation)
  • Laparoscopic (several small incisions)
  • Open RFA (an abdominal incision), if minimally invasive surgery is not appropriate

In some cases, superficial tumors can be wedged out (excised), while deeper lesions can be destroyed by RFA, thereby preserving most of the liver tissue.

The team at the Liver Cancer Center decides which approach is best for you, based on the number and location of the tumors in the liver.

View a diagram of the RFA procedure.

What to Expect


  • In most cases, only a single RFA treatment is necessary for any given tumor.
  • Although the maximum tumor size that can be treated by RFA has yet to be determined with certainty, the technique appears to be best for tumors less than 5┬ácentimeters in size.

Length of procedure

  • Between 20 minutes and two hours, depending on the size and number of tumors

Length of hospital stay

  • The next morning, following percutaneous and laparoscopic approaches
  • Two to four days for open RFA surgery

After RFA Treatment

  • RFA is generally well-tolerated with minimal to no pain after the treatment.
  • Some people will experience a low-grade fever for a few days after the procedure.
  • There is a very low risk of bleeding or infection after the treatment.

You will have follow-up CT scans, every few months, to monitor for tumor recurrence.

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