What is Radiofrequency Ablation?

What is Radio Frequency Ablation

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is the precise application of radio waves to destroy unhealthy tissue or problematic nerve endings. It is a mildly-invasive, highly localized, procedure that can accurately target nerve tissue, tumors, or other areas of the body without damaging surrounding tissues.

It’s most commonly used as a pain management treatment, as part of tumor-reducing cancer treatments, and for repairing damaged veins. However, doctors are constantly expanding how they use RFA to treat patients.

This blog will discuss radiofrequency ablation, its history, present-day uses, and share some up-and-coming RFA research trends.


A Brief History of Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

The first recorded use of RFA for medical use was in 1931 by Dr.Martin Kirschner, a German surgeon experimenting with trigeminal neuralgia treatment pain relief solutions. His initial findings were successful and by the early 1950s the first RFA instrument was made commercially available through Cosmon and Aronov.

Since then, RFA generators have evolved immensely and are used to treat numerous conditions associated with nerve pain or diseased tissue. It’s a minimally invasive therapy that’s coupled with short recovery times and positive patient outcomes. These features are what makes it a popular treatment across various fields of medicine.

As such, it’s no wonder North America’s RFA devices market is expected to grow to over USD 6.5 million by 2028, dwarfing its already staggering 2022 value of USD 3.5 million.


Radio Frequency Ablation


How Do Radiofrequency Ablation Procedures Work?

In 2023, there are a variety of radiofrequency ablation techniques and instruments physicians can select for patient treatment.  Which one they use is largely dependent on ablation type, the physician’s treatment goals and their patient’s medical history.

However, each RFA procedure has certain similarities that we’ve outlined below.


Step One: Patient Preparation

RFA is most often a minimally invasive procedure that does not require too much patient preparation care prior to the procedure.  General anesthetic is not necessary for the majority of RFA treatments. However, numbing agents or local anesthetics are applied to the treatment areas.


Step Two: Probe Insertion

Next, the RFA’s needle-like probe used in RFA is inserted into the body through an injection site. The physician guides the probe to the target area using imaging equipment as a guide. The type of imaging used depends on the RFA treatment being applied and can include:

  • fluoroscopic imaging
  • ultrasonography (US)
  • computed tomography (CT)
  • or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


Step Three: Ablation

Once the probe is in the correct position, radio waves are dispersed through the probe and the target tissue is destroyed. For patients requiring multiple ablation in a single treatment, multi-probe RFA devices may be optimal.

If a multi-probe device isn’t feasible, steps two and three can be repeated multiple times as part of a single treatment session.


Step Four: Aftercare

If an RFA procedure is part of an outpatient treatment plan, patients return home the same day as their RFA and should be able to resume normal activities within 24 hours after the procedure is complete.


What medical device developments are improving patient care?


Types of RFA Procedures

The most common uses of RFA for patient care include the following:


Nerve Ablation

Nerve ablation was the first mildly-invasive medical treatment to incorporate radio waves. It is a common RFA procedure used for managing chronic pain when other methods are proving ineffective. With nerve ablation, nerve endings are targeted and destroyed, effectively stopping pain signals to the brain from that location.


Venous Insufficiency

Poorly functioning veins can be treated with RFA. In this type of treatment, diseased or damaged veins are sealed off and the blood can be redirected to healthier veins. This is most common used for veins in a patient’s legs.


Thyroid Ablation

Thyroid nodules, benign growths on a person’s thyroid, can be treated easily and effectively with RFA treatments. Thyroid ablation treats thyroid nodules non-surgically, offering shorter recovery time, reduced invasiveness, and potential suitability for patients not eligible for open surgery.


Tumor Ablation

Treating tumors of any type has traditionally required invasive surgical procedures. With advances in RFA techniques, tumors can often be treated using an RFA device.

This could result in a reduced recovery time and fewer medical complications. Furthermore, it can be an alternative when surgical intervention isn’t feasible because of a tumor’s position or the patient’s general health condition.


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The Future of RFA: Improved Patient Outcomes and Greater Accessibility to Care

As researchers continue to explore the potential of RFA, we will undoubtedly see improvements in patient care, more positive outcomes and more patients getting access to the treatments they need.

The devices used to carry out RFA treatments are fueling the treatments scope and capabilities. It’s now much safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective than it was previously. While the original process of RFA remains the same – applying energy to targeting tissue using a minimally invasive probe – surrounding factors have changed.

Today, RFA procedures and equipment can involve:

  • Precise energy delivery control
  • Different electrode sizes
  • Irrigation catheters
  • Real-time ablation monitoring
  • Pulsed field ablation
  • Microwave ablation
  • Temperature control
  • Advanced imaging technology

Howow are researchers advancing the field of medicine with RFA procedures? While the list is extensive, here are a few intriguing examples that showcase the expanding medical applications of RFA:

  • Ventricular Tachycardia
  • Barett’s Oesophagus
  • Long-term treatment of chronic lower back pain
  • Hypertension treatment through renal denervation

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