Lifespan Cancer Institute

Frequently Asked Questions About Image-Guided Tumor Ablation (IGTA)

Is Image-Guided Tumor Ablation Covered by Insurance?

Many medical plans cover IGTA — including radiofrequency ablation, microwave ablation, and cryoablation — when they are used in the liver, kidneys, and bones. However, given the rapid advances in this medical field, treatment of other areas may or may not be covered by your insurance.

We recommend that you discuss this in advance with your doctor and consult your health insurance provider. There are patient financial advocates available to you to help you navigate insurance and billing issues.

What Can I Expect on the Day of the Treatment?

On the day of the procedure you will be directed from the admissions area of the hospital to the diagnostic imaging department, where you will be asked to change into a patient gown.

An intravenous line will be inserted so that you can receive fluids and sedative medication. Depending upon where the tumor is located, IGTA can be uncomfortable. However, medication is available during and after the procedure to control any discomfort you may feel.

Following the procedure, which usually takes between 45 and 90 minutes, you will spend a few hours in a special recovery area before going home. Most patients can return to their usual activities within a few days.

Will I Be Exposed to Radiation During the Procedure?

Radiofrequency (RF) waves, like X-rays, microwaves, and visible light, are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. However, RF waves are much lower in energy and too weak to affect the chemical structure of cells or cause genetic damage. Unlike X-ray radiation, radiofrequency waves do not adversely affect the immune system.

If your procedure requires a CT scan to guide the probe placement, you will be exposed to a small dose of radiation, similar to that you received during imaging tests to diagnose the tumor and monitor treatment.

How Has Lifespan Provided Leadership in the US for IGTA?

Image-guided tumor ablation was first approved in 1997 to treat liver tumors in patients who were considered ineligible for surgery. The early technology used radiofrequency energy to generate heat around an electrode that was placed directly into the tumor. In 1997, Rhode Island Hospital was one of the first centers in the United States to use this treatment, under the direction of Damian Dupuy, MD, FACR.

By 1998, the use of radiofrequency tumor ablation had been broadened at Rhode Island Hospital to treat tumors in bones, lungs, and kidneys as well. The early integration of ablation technology into oncology practice at Rhode Island Hospital provided a foundation for the Lifespan Cancer Institute to build upon. We continue to be at the forefront in advancing IGTA techniques. 

Radiofrequency ablation remained in widespread use at Rhode Island Hospital for nearly 12 years. Eventually, devices were developed that use microwave energy to generate heat over a much larger area. This improved the effectiveness of ablation therapy to treat even larger tumors. 

In 2003, Dr. Dupuy performed the first image-guided microwave ablation for lung cancer in a human. Since then, microwave ablation has largely replaced radiofrequency ablation in our practice for treatment of tumors in the lungs, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, and other soft tissues.

As tumor ablation technology continues to improve, its applications in treating cancer in minimally invasive ways are always expanding. Ultrasound-guided cryoablation is among the newest applications of IGTA at Lifespan. It uses extreme cold to freeze tumors as a treatment for early-stage breast cancer. This therapy is used for women older than 50 or those who cannot undergo surgery due to heart or lung problems that would make IV sedation too risky. Ultrasound-guided cryoablation can be performed to treat breast cancer in less than one hour of operating time, with only injections of local anesthetic to numb the skin and treatment site.

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