Ablation, a real alternative to cancer surgery

Ablation, a real alternative to cancer surgery

A short review on ablation, localised Hyperthermia, and its different forms - thermal ablation and cryoablation and even the Nanoknife IRE and HIFU - and their applicability as treatments for cancer; ablation is a real alternative to surgery.

Ablation kills cancer cells and solid tumours

Ablation is a minimally invasive alternative to traditional cancer surgery. It can destroy solid cancer tumours in situ. Ablation is performed by inserting a special probe (a needle) through a tiny hole in the skin, often less than 3mm in size. The probe is then inserted into the tumour.

   * Thermal ablation - the probe heats the tumour to temperatures of 45-50 degrees C, and sometimes higher.

   * Cryoablation - the probe freezes the tumour to -40 degrees C.

Each methodology is proven to kill all the cancer cells.

Ultrasound Scanning, Computerised Tomography (CT) or even MRI scanning is used to guide the probe into place.

Thermal Ablation 

The probe can be heated traditionally by a generator, to provide Microwave Ablation (MWA) or Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA). Another possibility is to use sound waves - called High Intensity Focussed Ultrasound, or HIFU. In prostate cancer these various therapies collectively may be termed Focal Therapy, enabling cancerous areas of the prostate to be treated without harming the healthy areas. 

A generator will also be used when the probe needs to be used at low temperatures. 

What cancers can be treated with Thermal Ablation?

In theory any solid tumour can be treated. So ’deep seated' or 'difficult to treat' tumours in liver cancer or kidney (renal) cancer are increasingly being treated by ablation.

Ablation can also be used where a cancer is on the surface of an organ - for example, the lung or the liver.

It can also be used where a small amount of cancer is causing pain, for example near a joint. 

Endometrial ablation is becoming more common, especially where small tumours are involved and in numerous spots in the peritoneum

At the moment Ultrasound ablation is increasingly being used for prostate cancer treatment (HIFU), and small numbers of people have been treated for breast cancer. Attempts have been made to treat bone cancer and bone mets. Cancer Research UK were 'extremely excited' when researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research UK 'melted away' bone mets some years ago. Curiously, the research has completely disappeared from all their Websites and the Royal Marsden claims to know nothing about it.

Small tumours are usually treated with 100% success by ablation; and, although bigger tumours can be treated, it is harder to completely eradicate them. However, ablation treatment can be repeated, and anyway, the the Nanoknife IRE is more applicable for larger tumours.

Go to: HIFU an effective treatment for prostate cancer

Chris Woollams, former Oxford University Biochemist said, "The potential is enormous. In the first few months of 2021, CANCERactive patients in the UK had small liver tumours of 8 mm treated with ablation and cryoablation - one lady had two small ones treated with ablation and a larger one next to the portal vein treated with the Nanoknife. We also had a Colorectal Cancer patient have 27 lung tumours - in this case lung nodules - all eradicated using ablation. We've had prostate cancer patients treated with the Nanoknife in a Gold Coast clinic near Sydney, Australia, and at the Vitus Clinic in Germany. We have also sent a number of people to John Jurige in Louisville, or to the Focal Therapy Clinic in London for HIFU."

Effectiveness of Thermal Ablation

This depends up the size of the tumour and the location. The nearer to the surface of the body, and the smaller the tumour, the easier the treatment. And the more successful.

How is Ablation performed?

The majority of patients only have local anaesthesia. The treatment can take anything between 30 minutes and two hours depending upon location and size of tumour. The ’surgeon’ can adjust the heat or cold depending upon the circumstances. The ’operation’ can be combined with other treatments - for example, it could be performed if just a few cancer cells are found at the time of a viewing probe looking for anomalies in the oesophagus, or it could be performed when conducting a laparoscopy, or during surgery.

Possible Side-effects

Complications are usually found in less than 5% of those treated. They could include infection, bleeding, cramping, perforation or even a collapsed lung. Most people, however, are usually out of hospital within two days.

Irreversible Electroporation (IRE)

This can also be called the ’Nanoknife’, although it is not a knife. Where IRE is helpful is when the tumour is wrapped around a blood vessel. IRE does not damage collagen, blood vessels or bile ducts and IRE is being used for bladder, pancreatic and liver cancers where blood vessels are involved. The procedure uses thermal energy to punch holes in cancer cells, and can be used for pancreatic, or liver resection.

Early days yet - Johns Hopkins are following patients using IRE to make some Clinical numbers available.

Go to: The Nanoknife


In this instance, a hollow needle or cryoprobe, allows a very cold liquid or gas into the tumour to kill it. The procedure is also called cryosurgery or cryotherapy.

Cryosurgery has been used in the USA on cancers such as lung, liver, kidney, prostate, cervical, eye and even bone (including metastases). 


We have a complete review on the use of HIFU with prostate cancer - there is also a specialist UK centre - The Focal Therapy Clinic - 020 7036 8870. See e-mail address below.

Go to: HIFU and prostate cancer

Ablation for cancer - Summary

This are is potentially massive and it has grown enormously in just a decade. Chris Woollams adds, "Almost two decades ago in my best seller "Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer" I wrote about exactly this: Imagine a world where we have genuine early diagnosis and so the tumours are small, and the expertise on ablation has doubled. Solid tumours could be eradicated in their infancy. No more drugs, radiotherapy or surgery. (Now you understand the vested interest and politics.) With the new early detection blood tests being trialed in more than 200,000 people in the UK, and their potential to diagnose far more cancers at early stage when the tumours are small, minimally invasive treatments like ablation and Nanoknofe will blossom"

Go to: Using Hyperthermia to fight cancer

The Focal Therapy Clinic - https://www.thefocaltherapyclinic.co.uk

2018 Research
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