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Laparoscopic Procedure Gives New Hope to Cancer Patients

BEDFORD, Texas — Radio-Frequency Tumor Ablation (RFA) is giving hope to cancer patients with otherwise inoperable liver tumors. The minimally invasive procedure, performed at Harris Methodist H•E•B Hospital (HMHEB), uses low frequency electrical energy to generate heat that kills cancerous growths inside the liver.

Once cancer has spread to the liver the options for treatment are usually limited. Radio-Frequency Tumor Ablation provides a new treatment option to individuals who may not tolerate major surgery or who do not respond to other treatments. Using a special needle-electrode placed directly into the tumor, heat is generated by a low intensity electrical energy called radio-frequency. When the tissue temperatures rise to sufficient levels, the targeted tumor dies.

Not all liver tumors can be removed safely and effectively using traditional, invasive surgical procedures. Cancer that has spread to the liver presents a number of problems. Tumors may be numerous and are often scattered throughout the liver, making it impractical or even impossible to surgically remove the growths without significant damage to healthy liver tissue, said Robert Sewell, M.D., a surgeon who performs RFA at HMHEB.

"In many cases, attempting a major liver resection would do more harm than good," Sewell said. "The RFA procedure is not a cure for liver cancer, but it may add to a cancer patient’s useful life and give them hope for a future that might otherwise be unobtainable."

Physicians routinely use MRI and CT scans to evaluate the liver for possible tumors, but these tests often fail to show the full extent of the cancer and whether or not the tumors can be successfully treated with RFA. The most accurate determination of the extent of the cancer can be made by using intraoperative ultrasound, or a direct examination of the liver during the laparoscopic operation.

Using the ultrasound images as a roadmap, the surgeon guides the RFA needle-electrode into the tumor where the low frequency electrical energy generates heat and kills the tumor. Radio-Frequency Tumor Ablation allows the surgeon to target just the tumor and a small rim of normal liver around the tumor, minimizing the risk to surrounding healthy tissue. Patients treated with RFA usually go home the next day with far less discomfort than those whose tumors are surgically removed, Sewell said.

Sewell has trained more than 100 surgeons in RFA. He was recently honored for his efforts by receiving the Presbyterian Institute for Minimally Invasive Technology’s (PIMIT) Distinguished Faculty Award for 2001.

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