Microwave ablation (MWA) is a minimally invasive interventional radiology procedure that uses the heat generated by electromagnetic currents to destroy abnormal cells. The application of heat to tumor cells prevents any further growth or spread. MWA is used regularly for cancer treatment.

During MWA, imaging guidance (ultrasound or CT) visualizes the affected tissue for the interventional radiologist. From here, the doctor safely inserts a needle with an electrode tip through the skin and into the problematic area. The electrode generates heat to eradicate the questionable cells. MWA is effective for eliminating malignant cells, as well as pre-cancerous or injured cells.

Why Microwave Ablation (MWA) is Performed

Microwave ablation is a newer, well-tolerated treatment approach for lung, liver, kidney, prostate, and bone cancers. Heat is highly capable of generating rapid cell death. MWA is typically recommended when a patient is unable to undergo surgical tumor resection (removal) due to advancing age, overall disease burden, or issues with the patient’s heart or pulmonary functioning. MWA might be a sole approach to alleviate cancer symptoms when a mass is too risky to operate on, or it could be part of a broader, multi-therapy treatment plan. The tumor’s core attributes (size, staging, and site) are what helps a provider determine if MWA will be effective in eliminating malignant cells.

What to Expect During Microwave Ablation (MWA)

Microwave ablation is performed in an outpatient setting by an interventional radiologist. However, depending on the tumor site or organ, an overnight stay following the procedure may sometimes be required. Patients are relaxed with conscious sedation prior to the start of the procedure. Next, local anesthesia is applied to the area of the skin that will be accessed with a small incision. A needle with an electrode tip is guided through the incision with imaging guidance in the form of ultrasound or CT. This helps the provider safely access the tumor mass. Once at the tumor, the provider will initiate the microwave energy to agitate the tumor tissue. This agitation ultimately leads to the destruction of diseased cells. Once the procedure is done, usually within two hours, the electrode is removed and the area is bandaged. From here the patient moves to a specialized recovery area or else is admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay.

Risks and Benefits of Microwave Ablation (MWA)

Microwave ablation is a safe procedure with many benefits. Most importantly, the treatment approach has high success in stopping the growth or spread of cancerous cells. MWA also offers patients a rapid recovery time with less pain when compared to surgical tumor management. MWA does carry some small risks, including bleeding, infection, and accidental heat damage to nearby (healthy) tissue. The usage of imaging guidance aims to reduce these risks as much as possible.

How to Prepare for Microwave Ablation (MWA)

Patients will be asked about all current medications, as some may need to be stopped prior to the scheduled procedure. Bloodwork may also be ordered to make sure that the patient has adequate immune system response and that their blood clots normally. The care team will communicate any restrictions on eating and drinking prior to the appointment time.

Post Microwave Ablation

Any immediate post-procedure pain will be addressed with pain medication while the patient is still at the hospital. Over-the-counter pain relief can treat any residual pain after the patient returns home. Most MWA patients are able to resume normal daily activities within only a few days following the procedure. The vast majority of MWA patients experience no pain at the one-week mark after the ablation.

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