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Thyroid nodules are very common, and the majority are benign. Even so, a large noncancerous thyroid nodule can cause problematic symptoms that require treatment, such as difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing, vocal changes and painful pressure in the neck.

As an alternative to a surgical procedure such as a thyroidectomy or lobectomy, thyroid nodule radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a promising treatment option for many patients who have symptomatic benign thyroid nodules. This minimally invasive technique is similar in concept to an ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration.

What does RFA involve?

When performing thyroid nodule RFA, a physician uses highly detailed ultrasound images to precisely guide the placement of a specialized electrode, which has an active tip that generates radiofrequency waves. The physician then directs the electrical current to the nodule, generating heat to burn and destroy the tissue in a highly controlled manner. The electrode constantly moves while inside the thyroid, allowing the physician to utilize a “moving shot” technique that minimizes the likelihood of tissue overheating. Over several months, the body’s immune system will gradually remove the cauterized thyroid tissue, leading to the eventual shrinkage of the nodule.

What are the advantages of RFA?

Thyroid nodule RFA is virtually painless and performed under local anesthesia as a 15-60 minute outpatient procedure, eliminating the need for the patient to undergo general anesthesia and thyroid surgery. Additionally, a thyroidectomy or lobectomy can compromise thyroid function, and many patients require thyroid hormone supplementation afterward. This is unnecessary after RFA, which targets only the nodule and does not affect the surrounding healthy tissue.

If you have questions about thyroid nodule RFA, you are welcome to talk with a specialist in the Endocrine Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.