Image-guided thermal ablation is a minimally invasive treatment option for patients with early stage non-small cell lung cancer or metastatic disease to the lungs. Percutaneous ablation treats malignant tumours in situ, which precludes histopathological evaluation of the ablated tumours. Imaging studies are used as surrogates to assess technical and clinical success. Although it is not universally accepted, a common protocol for surveillance imaging includes contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) at 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, 24 months, and yearly thereafter. Integrated 2-[18F]-fluoro-2-deoxy-d-glucose positron-emission tomography (PET)/CT imaging is recommended at 3 and 12 months and when recurrent disease is suspected. There is a complex evolution of the ablation zone on CT and PET imaging studies. The zone of ablation, initially larger than the ablated tumour, undergoes gradual involution. In the process, it may cavitate and resemble a lung abscess. Different contrast-enhancement and radionuclide uptake patterns in and around the ablation zone may indicate a wide range of diagnostic possibilities from a normal physiological response to local progression. Ultimately, the zone of ablation may be replaced by a variety of findings including linear bands of density, pleural thickening, or residual necrotic tumour. Diagnostic and interventional radiologists interpreting post-ablation imaging studies must have a clear understanding of the ablation process and imaging findings on surveillance studies. Accurate and timely recognition of complications and/or local recurrence is necessary to guide further therapy. The purpose of this article is to review imaging protocols and salient imaging findings after thermal ablation of lung malignancies.
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