The purpose of this study was to investigate the pathologic changes of extracorporeal ablation of human malignant tumors with high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU). HIFU treatment was performed in the 164 patients with liver cancer, breast cancer, malignant bone tumor, soft tissue sarcoma and other malignant tumors at focal peak intensities from 5000 W x cm(-2) to 20,000 W x cm(-2), with operating frequencies of 0.8 to 3.2 MHz. To explore the pathologic impact of extracorporeal HIFU, 30 patients with malignant carcinoma underwent surgical removal after HIFU treatment. Pathologic findings showed that the treated tissues demonstrated homogeneous coagulative necrosis with an irreversible tumor cell death and severe damage to tumor blood vessels at the level of microsvasculature within the HIFU-targeted region. Thermolesions to intervening tissue were never observed. The treated region had a sharp border comprising only several cell layers between the treated and untreated areas. The repair of lesions had the processes of necrotic tissue absorption and granulation tissue replacement. It is concluded that extracorporeal treatment of human solid malignancies with HIFU could be safe, effective and feasible. As a noninvasive therapy, HIFU would be used clinically to treat patients with solid malignancies.