Radiofrequency ablation is a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure that uses heat generated from a medium-frequency alternating current to cauterize thyroid nodules and cysts. It will shrink nodules without compromising thyroid function, which is a distinct advantage over the more traditional surgical treatment.
Performed under local anesthesia, radiofrequency ablation is a relatively painless procedure performed in our office at the Thyroid and RFA Center for Excellence in Houston. We use a guided ultrasound to insert a thermal probe into the thyroid nodule. Through selective heating of the probe tip, the nodule is destroyed. The cauterized tissue is then broken down by the body.
RFA is highly effective and, depending on the type of nodule, after one year patients can expect to see nodules shrink an average of 80%.
Benefits of RFA
In addition to being a less invasive procedure, RFA has many other advantages:
- preservation of thyroid function
- fewer complications than surgery
- shorter recovery time than surgery with a quicker return to normal activities
- the entire procedure lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour
- NO general anesthesia
- NO scarring
- minimal risk of permanent damage to the vocal cord nerve
- NO risk to the parathyroid glands
- NO need for lifelong thyroid medication
How RFA Works
Internally cooled electrodes with different active tip lengths are connected to a generator that creates an electric circuit. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration, these tools are designed specifically for a thyroid radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
The probe is inserted into the thyroid nodules and the generator creates a high frequency wave that it sends directly to the tip of the needle, which, in turn, heats a few millimeters of the nodule’s tissue and treats it point by point.
An alternating electric current creates frictional heat around the electrode to immediately damage the nodule tissue in significant amounts in areas very close to the electrode. Nodule tissue farther removed from the electrode is heated slowly. When temperatures reach 46°C, irreversible cellular damage on the nodule occurs and when temperatures are increased to 60-100°C, the nodule tissue immediately coagulates.
A normal occurrence during the procedure is to hear the sounds of popcorn being popped, which means the generator and water pump each are doing their jobs.