Ablation involves destroying the tumor using ethanol (or 100% alcohol), high-energy radio waves, or freezing techniques. Ablation is used in patients with early-stage cancer who have only a few small tumors but who cannot undergo surgery, often because they are not healthy enough or their liver is not working well. Ablation does not usually cure the cancer but may produce survival rates equal to surgery in people with small tumors. The technique may also be used to treat cancer in patients waiting for a liver transplant.

Ablation is best used for tumors no larger than about 3 centimeters across. For slightly larger tumors (3 to 5 centimeters across), it may be used in combination with embolization.
*Note: 2.5 centimeters = 1 inch.

Percutaneous Ethanol Injection

The doctor uses ultrasound to guide a thin needle into the liver tumor. The needle injects ethanol (or 100% alcohol) directly into the tumor to kill the cancer cells. The procedure may be performed once or twice a week. Usually local anesthesia is used, but general anesthesia may be needed if your liver has many tumors.

Radiofrequency Ablation

This technique uses a special probe producing high-energy radio waves that heat and destroy the tumor. Usually only local anesthesia is needed, but sometimes general anesthesia is used.


In this procedure, very cold gasses are passed through a metal probe to freeze and kill the cancer cells. The probe is guided through the skin and into the tumor using ultrasound. This technique can destroy larger tumors, but it sometimes requires general anesthesia.

Side Effects of Ablation Therapy

Possible side effects of ablation therapy include abdominal pain, fever, and infection in the liver. Serious complications, such as bleeding into the chest cavity or abdomen, are uncommon but possible. Staying overnight in the hospital is not usually needed.