Microwave ablation

Microwave ablation uses high frequency microwave energy to heat and kill cancer cells. It is a treatment for some large lung cancers. It can destroy a tumour that is blocking the airway. This helps you to breathe more easily.

Your doctor puts a special needle, called a needle electrode, through the skin into the lung cancer to give microwave ablation.

You have this treatment in the imaging department of the hospital. It isn't available in every hospital.

You have it under local or general anaesthetic.

Before your microwave ablation

Your doctor or specialist nurse explains what happens and how they do the treatment. They ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the procedure. You can ask them any questions that you have. Tell them about any medicines you are taking.

You shouldn’t eat or drink anything except water for 4 to 6 hours before the treatment. You can drink water until 2 hours beforehand.

Having microwave ablation

A nurse puts a small tube called a cannula into a vein in the back of your hand. They go with you to the imaging department.

You have your microwave ablation therapy on a treatment couch.

An anaesthetist injects an anaesthetic or a medicine to make you feel sleepy into the cannula.

Then your doctor injects local anaesthetic into the area of your chest so that the area is numb. They use a CT scanner to show the position of the cancer.

Photo of a CT scanner

The doctor then gives the microwave ablation treatment. They put the needle through the skin of your chest and directly into the tumour. The scanner checks that it is in the right place.

An electrode in the needle creates high frequency microwave energy to heat and destroy the tumour tissue.

The doctor can move the needle around to target different parts of the tumour.

After microwave ablation

You stay in the imaging department until the general anaesthetic or sedation wears off.

You might feel a bit drowsy and confused but you won’t remember any of the treatment.

You might wear an oxygen mask for a short time.

A nurse then takes you back to your ward. You might be able to go home that evening or you might stay on the ward overnight.

Side effects

Soreness and pain

The treatment area might be sore. Taking painkillers for a few days helps. Tell your nurse or doctor if you still have pain.

Possible risks

Your doctor will talk to you about the risks and benefits of having this treatment. It’s a safe procedure but every treatment has potential risks and side effects.

Difficulty breathing

The treatment should make it easier to breathe. Let your doctor know if you find it more difficult to breathe.

A collapsed lung (pneumothorax)

Air or gas can leak into the space around the lung and make it collapse. This makes you feel very breathless. It can get better on its own or your doctor can put in a small tube to expand the lung again.

Let your doctor know straight away if your breathing gets worse after your treatment.

Blood in the chest cavity (haemothorax)

Blood might leak into the chest area. It can get better on its own. Or your doctor can put in a tube to drain the blood.

An opening between the lung and skin surface

The opening is called a fistula. This is rare. If it happens you have surgery to close the opening.

If the cancer blocks the airway again

If the tumour grows back and blocks your airway you can have microwave ablation again. Or your doctor might suggest another treatment.

Related links