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Ablative cancer treatments use either heat or cold to destroy, or ablate, cancer tumors without the need for more invasive surgery. Special probes are used to deliver ablative treatments directly to the tumor. The surgeon relies on computer imaging to guide the probes to the correct position and monitor the progress of the treatment. 

Advantages of ablative therapies include: 

  • Minimal pain
  • Shorter recovery time than surgery or radiation therapy
  • Usually does not require an overnight hospital stay
  • Can be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments
  • Treatments can easily be repeated if necessary


Cryoablation is also known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery. A special probe is inserted into the tumor and then cooled to temperatures well below freezing. A ball of ice forms at the tip of the probe, freezing and destroying prostate tissue. Cryotherapy is not as invasive as surgery, and can sometimes be performed as an outpatient procedure. Cryotherapy is currently being used to treat prostate and kidney cancers. 

The biggest disadvantage with using cryotherapy to treat prostate cancer is that most men (about 80%) will lose the ability to have an erection. However, for men who already have erectile dysfunction, cryotherapy is a convenient and effective prostate cancer treatment. MD Anderson is conducting research to focus cryotherapy to treat just the tumor instead of the entire prostate, with the goal of preserving erectile function. 

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

A needle-thin probe delivers radiofrequency waves directly to the tumor, heating the tissue until it is destroyed. Radiofrequency ablation is best for smaller, localized tumors. RFA can be used to treat a variety of cancers: 

  • Bone cancer: RFA is mostly used to alleviate pain from cancer that has spread to the bone, usually from the colon
  • Liver cancer: Radiofrequency ablation can be combined with local chemotherapy to treat liver cancers
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney cancer

High Intensity Focused Ultrasound for Prostate Cancer

Also known as HIFU, this procedure is used to treat prostate cancer. A special probe uses high-frequency ultrasound to produce heat that kills cancerous tumors. The probe is inserted into the rectum and guided to the proper position using computer imaging. High intensity focused ultrasound can either treat the entire prostate ("full" HIFU) or just certain portions of the prostate ("focused" HIFU). The entire procedure takes from 1-4 hours.

HIFU has been used in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, to treat prostate cancer for about 10 years. However, it is not currently approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use in the United States. MD Anderson urologists have been treating patients with HIFU as part of clinical trials to test this treatment method. Because the treatment is relatively new, available data on its effectiveness is still maturing.

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