For patients with small tumours who may not be ideal surgical candidates, image-guided ablation of kidney cancers is an option. Instead of making surgical incisions, Prof Patel places small needles through the skin and uses x-rays to guide them into the cancer. These needles can then freeze (cryoablation) or boil (radio frequency ablation, or RFA) the cancer, eliminating the tumour. The body is then able to remove the dead tissue, leaving scar tissue behind in its place. These procedures are well tolerated, making ablation a good alternative in nonsurgical patients.
Thermal ablation can also be used as a palliative treatment to relieve painful symptoms when kidney cancer has metastasized to the bone. In these cases the freezing temperatures "anaesthetise" the painful site.