Lung Radiofrequency Ablation Program

The Lung Radiofrequency Ablation Progam in Mass General's Division of Thoracic Surgery supports a program of radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for early-stage lung cancer in patients who are deemed non-surgical candidates.

  • Phone: 617-726-6826

The Massachusetts General Hospital Thoracic Surgery Lung Radiofrequency Ablation team brings expertise in radiofrequency ablation for medically inoperable early-stage lung cancer. Patients who choose Mass General for radiofrequency ablation (RFA) enjoy the peace of mind of receiving care at a world-renowned institution with an outstanding reputation.

What to Expect

For patients for whom a chest X-ray or computed tomogram (CT) identifies an abnormality, a diagnosis of lung cancer is usually confirmed via one of three methods:

  • Examining the airway via bronchoscopy
  • Taking a biopsy from abnormal or enlarged lymph nodes adjacent to the windpipe
  • Passing a needle into the lung with the help of CT guidance

To determine the extent of tumor, we perform a complete assessment called "staging." Patients with lung cancer are first seen at the Multidisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Clinic and evaluated by thoracic surgeons, oncologists and radiation therapists. A treatment plan that might include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or RFA is then developed.

Clinical studies have demonstrated that lung radiofrequency ablation can be an effective treatment for local control of early-stage lung cancer or limited metastatic disease to the lung. We do not recommend this procedure for chronic pain syndromes from spread of tumor to chest wall. RFA, which lasts about two hours, is typically conducted under conscious sedation will a lay person understand what this is in our radiology suite. A patient who is deemed a good candidate by a consulting team of physicians to undergo RFA meets with a thoracic radiologist and an interventional radiology nurse to discuss the procedure, possible complications and plan for follow-up.

After the procedure, patients are admitted overnight for monitoring and usually go home the next day. Most return quickly to normal activities.

At Mass General, we're committed to following RFA patients closely to gauge their long-term health. We perform imaging follow-up at scheduled intervals between one and 24 months. If patients cannot travel to Mass General for imaging follow-up, the studies can be obtained closer to their home and sent to Mass General for review.

Shedding New Light on RFA

Our division is dedicated to furthering the medical field's understanding of this promising technique. Michael Lanuti, MD, Jo-Anne Shepard, MD, and Amita Sharma, MBBS, co-directors of the Lung Radiofrequency Ablation Program, help lead an annual workshop teaching RFA to radiologists and thoracic surgeons from around the United States. In addition, our division takes part in a national clinical trial studying the outcomes of RFA for medically inoperable stage I lung cancer.

Related Links

The Massachusetts General Hospital Thoracic Surgery Lung Radiofrequency Ablation team brings expertise in radiofrequency ablation for medically inoperable early-stage lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world and the leading cause of cancer-related death. At Mass General, we have a long tradition of treating this disease using both traditional methods and, more recently, minimally invasive techniques including:

  • Lung radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) lobectomy for surgical removal of the tumor

Surgical removal remains the ideal approach for treating early-stage malignant non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, some patients wish to avoid conventional surgery or in some cases may be too ill to undergo surgery due to other conditions such as emphysema, vascular disease and/or heart disease. In these cases, RFA may represent an effective alternative. RFA may also be appropriate for patients with inoperable lung nodules suspicious for lung cancer or spread of disease from other organ sites.

All candidates for RFA must:

  • Be capable of walking
  • Have a tumor less than 3 centimeters in diameter
  • Have a laboratory diagnosis of tumor

How RFA Works

During RFA, computed tomography (CT) is used to provide guidance for placement of a small needle in the targeted tumor. Energy is delivered through the needle to create intense heat to ablate, or destroy, the cancerous cells. At Mass General, we can ablate tumors in most patients with peripheral tumors that are smaller than 3 centimeters. In some cases, we may consider combining external beam radiation and RFA to treat larger tumors. The procedure causes minimal pain, has a very short recovery period and is a viable option for patients with limited lung function.

Leaders in the Field

Mass General has treated early-stage lung cancer with RFA since 2003, making us one of the first hospitals to use the technique for this purpose. The Lung Radiofrequency Ablation Program is a joint effort directed by Michael Lanuti, MD of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Jo-Anne Shepard, MD and Amita Sharma, MBBS, of the Department of Imaging.

Dr. Lanuti is a national leader and expert on lung RFA. At the 2009 annual meeting of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, Dr. Lanuti helped teach RFA to participants. In addition, he is assisting the society in developing standard-of-care guidelines for identifying candidates for RFA with medically inoperable early-stage lung cancer.

Dr. Lanuti, Dr. Shepard and Dr. Sharma review all cases referred to Mass General. For questions about RFA for lung cancer or to schedule an appointment, please call 617-724-4254.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is cancer that usually starts in the lining of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs), but can also begin in other areas of the respiratory system, including the trachea, bronchioles, or alveoli.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Division of Thoracic Surgery

55 Fruit Street
Blake 1570
Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-726-6826

Next Steps:

  • Phone: 617-726-6826