What is ablation therapy?
Ablation therapy uses extremely high or low temperatures to destroy (ablate) abnormal tissue or tumors, or to treat other conditions. It is a minimally invasive procedure, meaning that it may be done without open surgery. Ablation removes a layer or layers of tissue, unlike a surgical resection, which removes an entire organ or part of it.
How is the tissue removed during ablation therapy?
Tissue can be destroyed by freezing it with cold liquids, or applying hot liquids to the area. Radiofrequency energy or electrical currents may also be applied to destroy the abnormal tissue.
Some of the more commonly used methods in ablation therapy include:
- Microwave ablation: Usually, a thin probe is inserted through a small incision in the skin. The placement of the probe may be guided by using ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to locate the area to be treated. The tip of the probe releases microwaves to destroy the tissue.
- High-energy radiofrequency ablation: This technique is similar to microwave ablation, only radiofrequency waves are used instead.
- Thermal balloon ablation: A balloon is inserted into the body cavity and filled with fluid heated to 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Laser ablation: A laser may be used to treat skin discolorations or lesions.
- Cryoablation: A probe or other device is inserted using a thin needle or applied to tissue and supercooled to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit with liquid nitrogen or argon. The cold gas flows through the tip of the probe, causing ice crystals to form and destroy the tissue.
Why is ablation therapy performed?
An ablation may be performed to treat many types of medical conditions. Some of the most common procedures include:
- Catheter or cardiac ablation: A radiofrequency ablation or cryoablation is sometimes performed to treat a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). The goal is to restore normal heart rhythm by destroying or scarring areas of the heart that cause the irregular heartbeats.
- Endometrial ablation: Women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding may benefit from an ablation of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus). The procedure can stop or alleviate abnormal bleeding, but it is irreversible.
- Ablation for cancer: Cancerous tumors of the kidneys, liver, and other organs may be treated with cryoablation or other ablation techniques.