Radiofrequency (RF) ablation, a new and minimally invasive procedure that destroys tumors using a tiny needle, may be an effective first-line treatment for people who have early-stage liver cancer but who do not qualify for surgery, according to two studies.

The First Study

Researchers at the University of Pisa used RF ablation on 187 early-stage liver cancer patients who had cirrhosis but did not qualify for surgery. Of the patients, 97% survived one year, 71% survived three years; and 48% survived five years. These results are comparable to the results seen in patients who undergo surgery.

The Second Study

In the second study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, used RF ablation to treat 47 liver cancer nodules in 24 patients waiting for liver transplantation. The study found that 74% of the tumors were successfully treated by this procedure. RF ablation was more successful on smaller tumors than on larger ones.

The Procedures

Liver cancer patients usually have a poor prognosis, experts say, and surgery to remove the cancerous part of the liver is often considered the best and only hope for patients. Most patients won't qualify for surgery, and a liver transplant is a viable option for only a minority of candidates.

In RF ablation, surgeons insert an image-guided needle into spots on the liver affected by cancer. The needle then delivers heat directly to these affected regions, thereby destroying tumor cells.

Good News

The two new studies suggest that RF ablation is an effective new option for inoperable liver cancer, and may also help liver cancer patients who are waiting for liver transplantation

"I believe that this treatment will soon enter into the guidelines for the clinical management of liver cancer patients," says Dr. Riccardo Lencioni, lead researcher for the Italian team.

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