Objective: Radiofrequency hyperthermia using the newly-developed 'cooled-tip' needle has recently been proposed as a therapeutic modality for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Herein we report our preliminary results on feasibility and effectiveness of the thermal ablation of mono- or pauci-focal hepatocellular carcinoma with the cooled-tip needle.
Materials and methods: We treated 15 cirrhotic patients (mean age 68.8 years; 12 males; 14 HCV-positive; 13 in Child's Class A and 2 in Class B) with 20 hepatocellular carcinoma nodules (mean diameter 28.1 mm; range 10-43 mm; nine lesions with diameter greater than 3 cm). None of the patients had portal thrombosis and/or extrahepatic spread. We used a radiofrequency generator (100 W of power) connected to a 18 g perfusion electrode needle with an exposed tip of 2-3 cm. The circuit was closed through a dispersive electrode positioned under the patient's thighs. A peristaltic pump infused a chilled (2-5 degrees C) saline solution to guarantee the continuous cooling of the needle tip. The needle was placed into target lesions under US guidance. The interventional procedure was carried out in general anesthesia without intubation. Dynamic helical CT was carried out 15-20 days after thermal ablation to assess therapeutic efficacy.
Results: In all, 38 areas of coagulation necrosis (at 1000-1200 mA for 10-15 min) were generated in 24 sessions in the 20 hepatocellular carcinoma nodules (mean 1.9 lesions per nodule and 1.2 sessions per nodule). Complete necrosis as assessed at dynamic CT (lack of enhancement during the arteriographic phase) was achieved in 75% of cases in a single session; after a second RF session success rate was 90% (18 out of 20 nodules). A self-limited pleurisy along with a 5-fold increase in transaminases occurred in one patient; a 3-fold elevation of transaminases was encountered in three other patients. During the follow-up (median 15 months) five patients had recurrent hepatocellular carcinoma with a 1-year disease free interval of 64%. Of the three recorded deaths, two were due to intrahepatic tumor diffusion.
Conclusions: In our experience radiofrequency hyperthermia with the cooled-tip needle afforded an effective and safe percutaneous ablative method for HCC in cirrhosis and shortened treatment time.