Radiofrequency ablation useful for treating inoperable lung cancer

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Patients with inoperable lung cancer have the option of being treated via radiofrequency (RF) ablation, according to a study published in the April issue of the journal Radiology.

The study, performed at Brown Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital, showed that RF ablation used to treat early-stage, inoperable cancer can offer results equal to or better than through external beam radiation (EBT).

"In our study, RF ablation produced meaningful results in terms of both survival and tumor control," said Damian E. Dupuy, MD, director of tumor ablation at Rhode Island Hospital and professor of diagnostic imaging at Providence-based Brown Medical School. "The best two-year survival rate for early-stage lung cancer using EBT is 51 percent, compared to 57 percent with ablation."

Due to complications from the disease and advanced age, it can be difficult for patients to be treated with EBT, which directs focused beams of radiation at a tumor to destroy the abnormal cells.

"Conventional EBT therapy involves 33 treatments over a six-week period and can often lead to side effects including radiation pneumonia and the permanent loss of lung tissue," said Dupuy. "RF ablation, which uses high-frequency electrical currents to heat and destroy abnormal cells, is performed in a single day as an outpatient procedure, is minimally invasive and has few side effects."

The research team evaluated 153 patients who underwent CT-guided RF ablation for 189 inoperable lung cancers, including 116 primary lung cancers and 73 metastases to the lung from other cancers.

The one-, two-, three-, four- and five-year survival rates for stage I, non-small cell lung cancer treated with RF ablation were 78 percent, 57 percent, 36 percent, 27 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Patients with colorectal pulmonary metastasis had a 57 percent five-year survival rate following RF ablation.

"It's important for physicians to know that RF ablation is a treatment option for their sickest and elderly patients," Dupuy said.

The study also found that RF ablation was able to control the progression of patients' tumors. For example, tumors three centimeters or smaller took an average of 45 months to grow following treatment; tumors larger than three centimeters progressed in an average of 12 months.

"As the means of detecting early-stage lung cancer improves, we will see less invasive treatment options such as ablation replace surgery during our lifetime," Dupuy said.