Thyroid health issues used to require surgical intervention for treatment, but patients now have new, less-invasive treatment options available. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a non-surgical alternative for treating benign thyroid nodules. Nodules are lumps of abnormal tissue that grow within the thyroid gland. They may not cause any symptoms when they’re small, but large nodules can be painful and impact your health.
Thyroid RFA is an effective and safe treatment that removes thyroid nodules without cutting into the thyroid gland or using general anesthesia. This procedure can be performed in a doctor’s office and outpatient facilities, so hospitalization is unnecessary.
Since this treatment is new, many thyroid patients are unfamiliar with how the procedure works and what to expect from the treatment. Learn how thyroid RFA treats nodules and if you’re a good candidate for this treatment.
What is Thyroid RFA?
Thyroid radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure. No incisions are made in your skin; the doctor inserts a thin needle or probe directly into your thyroid nodule. Your doctor or a technician uses ultrasound guidance to accurately place the needle into the nodule without affecting the surrounding tissue.
The probe is connected to a machine that sends energy to the electrode tip of the needle. The energy heats the tip, causing cells within the nodule to die. Thyroid RFA only kills nodule cells and leaves the rest of the thyroid gland intact and functioning.
Once cells inside the thyroid nodules are eliminated, the nodule begins to shrink slowly over time. This relieves the symptoms caused by the size or location of the thyroid nodule.
What Are the Benefits Compared to Surgery?
Thyroid surgery is invasive, leaves a scar, and has an increased risk of complications. Surgery can also damage the thyroid or impact the gland’s overall function. Thyroid RFA is a minimally invasive and safe procedure with little to no scarring.
You won’t need to be hospitalized for thyroid RFA or take extended time off from work to recover. RFA can be completed in a morning or afternoon, and patients can return home the same day. Recovery is much faster with thyroid RFA, with many patients returning to their normal activities the following day.
Am I a Good Candidate for Thyroid RFA?
You are a good candidate for thyroid RFA if your thyroid nodules are benign. People with cancerous thyroid nodules or a history of thyroid cancer are ineligible for thyroid RFA. Your doctor may request that you undergo a fine needle aspiration biopsy first to determine if your nodule is cancerous or benign.
You may be a good candidate if your thyroid nodules are:
- Overproducing thyroid hormones, causing hyperthyroidism
- Causing compressive symptoms in your throat like trouble breathing, swallowing, or having a hoarse voice
- Forming a large, multinodular goiter
- Causing cosmetic problems due to the nodule’s size
Patients recommended for surgical treatment may also be eligible for this procedure. Those who would prefer to avoid surgery and patients unsuitable for surgery also make good candidates for thyroid RFA.
What Can I Expect During Treatment?
You’ll be awake for the entire procedure and able to talk with your doctor while it happens. For the treatment, you’ll be laying flat on an exam table, with a pillow supporting your head and neck. You can keep your clothes on, but it is recommended that you don’t wear tops that cover your neck. You may also want to wear or bring shorts with you since grounding pads must be placed on your thighs.
The doctor administers local anesthesia to your neck before thyroid RFA begins. This is to numb the areas surrounding your thyroid gland so you won’t feel pain during the needle insertion or the procedure. Most patients don’t feel any discomfort during thyroid RFA, though some may experience a temporary tingling or burning sensation when the energy is being delivered by the probe. This feeling goes away once the procedure is finished.
Thyroid RFA is a short procedure, with the length determined by the number of total thyroid nodules and the size of each nodule. The more nodule cells that need to be destroyed, the longer the procedure takes. Most patients can expect the procedure to finish within an hour.
How Effective is Thyroid RFA Treatment for Benign Nodules?
Research shows that thyroid RFA is a safe and effective treatment for thyroid nodules. Nodules noticeably shrink within the first month of treatment and may continue to reduce in size for up to a year after the procedure.
Symptoms decline as the size of the nodule shrinks. Several randomized trials show that patients experienced a 50-80% reduction in the volume of their thyroid nodules from one treatment. Larger nodules may require more than one treatment for best results.
What are the Complications from Thyroid RFA?
Thyroid RFA is safe and has a low complication rate, especially compared to surgery. Infections, hypothyroidism, and nerve damage are extremely rare in thyroid RFA. Patients may experience a temporary voice change after the procedure and slight bleeding.
What Can I Expect After Thyroid RFA?
You can resume your normal lives the day after your procedure. You need to follow up with your doctor to monitor your progress. Ultrasound is recommended at regular intervals after your thyroid RFA to ensure the procedure is effective. Your doctor may also check your thyroid hormone levels to watch for signs of hypothyroidism.
Does Insurance Cover Thyroid RFA?
While many insurance plans cover other radiofrequency ablation procedures, they may not cover this treatment for thyroid conditions. This is because thyroid RFA is still a new treatment.
Insurance covers the cost of your thyroid nodule evaluation, and you may be able to apply for approval for the RFA from your insurance company. Depending on your plan, you may be covered or may have to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket.
Who Performs Thyroid RFA?
Doctors who specialize in treating thyroid disorders, called endocrinologists, can perform thyroid RFA. Associated Endocrinologists is one of the first offices in Michigan to offer thyroid RFA in the area.
We believe this non-surgical procedure offers excellent benefits to our patients and work with you and your insurance company to help make thyroid RFA accessible. Contact us to make an appointment to evaluate your thyroid nodules and learn about your treatment options.