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Acad Radiol. 1996 Mar;3(3):212-8.

Radiofrequency tissue ablation: importance of local temperature along the electrode tip exposure in determining lesion shape and size.

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Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.



We determined whether heat distribution along a radiofrequency (RF) electrode would be uniform when longer tip exposures are used and whether local temperature effects would influence the shape of induced tissue coagulation.


Thermistors were embedded within 18-gauge RF electrodes at both ends and in the middle of the exposed tip. The length of tip exposure varied from 1 to 7 cm. RF was applied in vitro to pig liver for 6 min using a constant tip temperature, which was varied in 10 degrees C increments from 60 degrees C to 110 degrees C. Experiments were performed in triplicate. The 3- and 5-cm probes were used at a 90 degrees C tip temperature to create lesions in live pig liver and muscle using similar parameters. Temperature was measured throughout the procedure. Observable coagulation necrosis was measured at the end of the treatment. Regression analysis was used to evaluate the local temperature-lesion diameter relationship.


Temperatures were not uniform along the tip exposure for any given trial. Temperature variation increased with higher tip temperatures and longer tip exposures. The diameter of local coagulation necrosis was a function of the local mean temperature. For in vitro trials, no coagulation was seen when the local temperature was less than 50 degrees C. Temperatures above this threshold resulted in progressively greater lesion diameter, with a minimum of 1 cm of necrosis occurring at 71 degrees C. Additional increases in lesion diameter (1.4-1.6 cm) were observed at approximately 90 degrees C. Mathematical modeling demonstrated a best-fit curve: lesion diameter (in cm) = ¿1.4 + 0.03 (tip exposure)¿ ¿1 - e [-0.067(local temp - 49.5 degrees C)]¿, r2 = .986, SD = 0.14 cm for each curve. In living tissue, less uniformity in the shape of coagulation necrosis was seen around the electrodes. Local temperature-lesion diameter data fit the same logarithmic relation, but the threshold for coagulation necrosis was 8.5 degrees C higher than for in vitro specimens.


Using a single-probe technique for RF-induced tissue necrosis, the diameter of tissue coagulation may be predicted by the local temperature along the exposed electrode. The uniformity of temperature decreases with increased tip exposures. This effect may be partially corrected by creating lesions at higher tip temperatures, where necrosis diameter is increased. Because effects are more pronounced in vivo, uniform volumes of tissue necrosis are limited to tip exposures of 3 cm or less.

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