Health Information and Tools >  Cirrhosis – Ablation for liver cancer
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Ablation is a procedure that destroys cancer in the liver.

Your healthcare team may recommend ablation if surgery isn't an option to remove the cancer.

If the tumour is small, there's a chance ablation can destroy all of it.

And if it's bigger, you may need other treatments to destroy or shrink it.

Ablation is usually done in the hospital by a doctor called an interventional radiologist.

In some cases it's done by a surgeon in the operating room.

Most people who have an ablation go home the same day.

But if it's done with surgery, you may need to stay in hospital.

Before the procedure, the doctor freezes the skin over your liver.

You might get an IV [intravenous] medicine to help you relax.

You'll still be awake and might still feel some heat or pain during the procedure.

Or, you'll get a general anesthetic that puts you to sleep.

The doctor carefully guides a needle into the tumour in your liver.

They may use an ultrasound or CT [computed tomography] scan to help them see exactly where the needle is going.

When it's in the right place, the doctor sends heat or chemicals through the needle to shrink and destroy the tumour.

Doctors may use heat to do the ablation.

If they use heat from radio waves, it's called radiofrequency ablation or RFA.

If they use heat from microwaves, it's called microwave ablation or MWA.

Doctors may also use a chemical to do the ablation.

They do this by putting ethanol through the needle and into the tumor.

This is called percutaneous ethanol injection or PEI.

The ethanol destroys the tumour by drying it up. 

After an ablation, the healthcare team will check on you often until you're ready to go home.

If you go home the same day, you can expect to be at the hospital for 4 to 8 hours.

After you go home, pay attention to how you feel.

If you have bad pain or a fever, call your doctor or nurse or go to the emergency department. ​

You'll have a follow-up ultrasound, MRI [magnetic resonance imaging], or CT [computed tomography] scan in about 1 to 3 months.

This is to see how well the ablation worked to shrink or destroy the tumour.

Your healthcare team will then let you know if you need more treatments.

If you don't, they'll let you know when you need more tests to check how you're doing.

Keep paying attention to how you feel.

Let your healthcare team know if you develop any new symptoms.

We understand that you may have many thoughts and feelings after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

Remember, your healthcare team is here to support you. Reach out to them if you have any questions.

To learn more, please visit cirrhosiscare.ca or MyHealth.Alberta.ca.