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Cautery tool uses radio wave electricity to kill liver, kidney tumors

A cautery tool used for years to seal blood vessels during surgery is finding new use as a tumor-killer at the UC Davis Cancer Center.

Radiofrequency ablation, which uses electricity generated by low-frequency radio waves to vaporize tissue, is showing promising results in treating benign and malignant tumors. It's administered percutaneously or laparoscopically, so it has fewer complications than conventional surgery.

Dr. John McGahan, director of abdominal imaging for the UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center, and Philip Schneider, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology, are among a small group of researchers using the tool to treat cancer patients who cannot undergo conventional surgery.

Together, the duo has treated 30 patients using radiofrequency ablation. Most have been cancer-free for at least one year. Those who died were able to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life than they would have otherwise.

Their most extensive experience has been with metastatic liver tumors, but last year McGahan became one of the first physicians in the country to use it successfully on a woman with early-stage kidney cancer.


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Dr. John McGahan, director of abdominal imaging, has been investigating the uses of radiofrequency ablation for 20 years.