Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) Program

What is radiofrequency ablation?

Thyroid radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive treatment used to shrink thyroid nodules that have grown enough to cause patients bothersome symptoms. RFA uses ultrasound-guidance to insert a needle probe into a thyroid nodule to deliver heat through radiowaves to destroy the nodule causing it to shrink over time.  Thyroid RFA is a less invasive alternative to thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine therapy for some select patients with thyroid nodules.

Which thyroid nodules can be treated with RFA?

Currently only thyroid nodules which have been biopsied with a needle and are benign (non-cancerous) are candidates for RFA treatment.  Nodules also need to be causing symptoms due to the size and location of the nodule. Symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, a sensation of pressure or discomfort, visible swelling from the thyroid nodule and others.  During your initial appointment your physician will evaluate the thyroid nodule with an ultrasound to determine if RFA ablation or some other treatment such as surgery is the best option for you.

How is thyroid RFA performed?

After your initial appointment with your physician, you will be scheduled for the procedure at future date. The RFA treatment is performed by your physician using ultrasound-guidance to place the RFA probe into the nodule several times to treat the entire thyroid nodule.  The procedure typically takes around 1 hour to perform. During the procedure you will be given local anesthetic to numb the area as well as medications through an IV to help provide a light level of sedation. Most patients have minimal discomfort during the ablation procedure.  You will be monitored closely during the procedure and after the ablation is completed in the recovery room.

What are the risks of RFA?

The risks of complications from radiofrequency ablation of thyroid nodules are very, very low and are similar to that of thyroid surgery. Risks include bleeding, infection, voice changes or hoarseness of the voice as well as other complications related to the procedure.

What happens if the nodule regrows in the future?

Repeat thyroid RFA treatment or thyroid surgery to remove the nodule can be performed later if the thyroid nodule starts to enlarge again or if symptoms are still bothersome after the initial thyroid RFA treatment.

Will my insurance cover the cost of thyroid RFA?

Insurance companies are increasingly covering radiofrequency ablation for thyroid nodules; however, the procedure is still relatively new, and some patients do not have insurance coverage. Our team will help you determine if your insurance provides coverage for the procedure and if not, we will discuss options for financial assistance or self-pay.

Can anyone undergo thyroid RFA?

No, patients who have cardiac pacemakers or other implanted electronic devices or patients who are currently pregnant cannot undergo RFA treatments.  Some thyroid nodules are also not good candidates for RFA due to the location of the nodule, if the nodule is concerning for cancer or if the nodule is mostly cystic (filled with fluid).  These nodules may be better treated with surgery or another ablation treatment such as alcohol ablation.

What is the recovery like after thyroid RFA?

Most patients are discharged the same day of the procedure unit after a short period of observation. Over the counter pain medications and a cold compress applied to the neck over the thyroid nodule are usually all that is needed for pain after the procedure.  Most patients return to work the day following the procedure. The thyroid nodule can take several weeks to months to shrink after RFA treatment, and your physician will see you in follow up over this time to monitor the change in size with exam, ultrasound and will discuss how you are feeling.