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According to results presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society, radiofrequency ablation may provide an effective treatment alternative to surgery in patients with renal cell cancer.

The kidneys are a pair of bean shaped organs located on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter the blood and eliminate waste in the urine through a complex system of filtration tubules. All of the blood in the body passes through the kidneys approximately 20 times an hour. Renal cell cancer is an uncommon form of cancer that is most often characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the lining of the filtration tubules of the kidney. Standard treatment often includes the surgical removal of the cancer, which may involve partial or complete removal of the kidney in which the cancer exists. However, some patients have other existing medical conditions that make drastic surgery unsafe. Historically, these patients had a poor prognosis and were treated in an attempt to improve quality of life and duration of survival.

Radiofrequency ablation is a type of therapy that entails high-energy radio waves to kill cancer cells. The waves, which produce intense heat, can be administered through the skin using a probe, about the size of a needle, into the tumor(s). The physician uses an imaging scan, such as an ultrasound or a computerized tomography (CT) scan, to guide the probe to the intended spot(s) to be destroyed. The high-energy radio waves heat the cancer cells until they become coagulated and ultimately destroyed. This procedure is much better tolerated than the surgical removal of cancer and/or a section or entire kidney.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate radiofrequency ablation in the treatment of patients with renal cell carcinoma who were not eligible for surgery. This trial involved 32 patients with a total of 51 renal tumors. Following radiofrequency ablation, 98% of cancers were completely destroyed. Almost 7 months following treatment, no patients had experienced a cancer recurrence. Overall, treatment was very well tolerated.

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The researchers concluded that radiofrequency ablation may provide an effective and easily tolerated treatment alternative to patients with renal cell carcinoma who are not eligible for the surgical removal of their cancer. The researchers add that although these are short follow-up results, radiofrequency ablation may be performed again on patients who experience a cancer recurrence. Patients with renal cell carcinoma who may not be eligible for surgery may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of radiofrequency ablation or the participation in a clinical trial further evaluating radiofrequency ablation or other promising therapeutic approaches.

Reference: Farrell M, Charboneau W, DiMarco D, et al. Radiofrequency ablation of solid renal tumors. Proceedings of the 103rd annual meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society. 2003. Abstract #263.

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