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What is Renal Tumor Ablation?

Ablation is a treatment to destroy cancerous cells or tumors. Renal tumor ablation, also known as kidney tumor ablation, is a minimally invasive surgical technique that employs different ablation methods for the purpose of treating renal tumors not amenable to traditional surgery. The technique uses image guidance such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scan to pass a needle or probe through the skin into the kidney to destroy the tumor instead of surgically removing the tumor.

Some of the common types of kidney tumor ablation include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): This is one of the most common methods of ablation in which a needle or probe is passed through the skin into the kidney tumor and high-frequency electrical currents are transmitted via probe or electrode in the needle to heat the tumor and destroy the cancerous cells.
  • Microwave ablation (MWA): This method is similar to RFA and employs energy from electromagnetic waves or microwaves to heat and destroy the tumor with a probe.
  • Cryoablation (cryotherapy): In this method, a thin metal probe is guided into the tumor and extremely cold temperatures are transmitted via the probe to freeze the tumor and cause the cancerous cells to die.

Indications for Renal Tumor Ablation

Some of the indications for renal tumor ablation to treat renal tumors include:

  • Malignant renal tumors measuring less than 4 cm in size
  • You are not fit enough to have surgical excision of the tumor or may have difficulty with surgery
  • You are older and cannot go through surgery or postsurgical recovery
  • You have preexisting medical conditions that make surgery risky
  • You have a recurrence of tumor post resection
  • You have tumors in one or both kidneys
  • You have a family history of multiple kidney tumors
  • You have only one kidney

Preparation for Renal Tumor Ablation

Pre-procedure preparation for renal tumor ablation will involve the following steps:

  • A thorough examination by your doctor is performed to check for any medical issues that need to be addressed prior to the procedure.
  • Depending on your medical history, social history and age, you may need to undergo tests such as blood work and imaging to help detect any abnormalities that could threaten the safety of the procedure.
  • You will be asked if you have allergies to medications, anesthesia, or latex.
  • You should inform your doctor of any medications, vitamins, or supplements that you are taking.
  • You should refrain from medications or supplements such as blood thinners, aspirin, or anti-inflammatory medicines for some days prior to surgery.
  • You should refrain from alcohol or tobacco at least 24 hours prior to surgery.
  • You should not consume any solids or liquids at least 8 hours prior to surgery.
  • You may be instructed to shower with an antibacterial soap on the morning prior to surgery to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home as you will not be able to drive yourself after surgery.
  • A written consent will be obtained from you after the surgical procedure has been explained in detail.

Procedure Involved in Kidney Tumor Ablation

The procedure is performed by an interventional radiologist mostly in an outpatient setting under general anesthesia or local anesthesia to numb the treatment area. A nurse will attach an intravenous line for delivery of medications and fluids and connect monitoring devices to the body to measure blood pressure, heart rate, pulse, and oxygen level during the procedure. Your interventional radiologist then uses an ultrasound scan or a CT scan as guidance to insert a probe or special needle via your skin into the site of the tumor to destroy the cancerous cells. This process may need to be repeated depending on the tissue size, location, and number to ensure all tumors are destroyed. Your interventional radiologist will withdraw the probe once the treatment is complete and cover the treatment area with a bandage. The procedure usually takes about one to three hours.

Postoperative Care and Recovery Involved in Renal Tumor Ablation

In general, renal tumor ablation will involve the following postoperative care instructions:

  • You will be transferred to the recovery area to be monitored until you are awake from the anesthesia.
  • Your nurse will monitor your vital signs and observe you for any anesthetic reactions such as nausea as you recover.
  • You will likely be discharged the same day once stable; however, some may require an overnight stay.
  • You may experience some pain, swelling, and discomfort in the treatment area. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications and cold packs are recommended as needed.
  • Your physician will also provide you with antibiotics to prevent infection.
  • Most individuals are able to walk, eat, and drink within a couple of hours post procedure.
  • You should be able to resume all your normal activities within a few days.
  • Refrain from strenuous activities and lifting heavy weights for the first couple of weeks. Gradual increase in activities over a period of time is recommended.
  • A periodic follow-up appointment will be scheduled to monitor your progress.

Benefits of Renal Tumor Ablation

Some of the benefits of renal tumor ablation include:

  • Less expensive than other forms of treatment
  • No surgical incision is required, just a small nick on the skin
  • Helps to preserve kidneys
  • Comparatively quick procedure with faster recovery
  • Minimal complications and discomfort with shorter hospital stays

Risks and Complications of Renal Tumor Ablation

Renal tumor ablation is a relatively safe procedure; however, as with any minimally invasive surgery, some risks and complications may occur, such as:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Damage to surrounding soft tissue structures
  • Post-procedure pain, requiring narcotics for relief
  • Injury to the treated kidney 
  • Anesthetic reactions

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