Sharing Mayo Clinic

Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff

December 30, 2019

Quick Recovery From Kidney Cancer With Ablation Therapy

By SharingMayoClinic
A diagnosis of kidney cancer was not the news Carol Adams wanted to hear. But with the minimally invasive option offered by her Mayo care team, Carol's cancer treatment turned out to be quick and painless. Now the diagnosis and the cancer are behind her.

A diagnosis of kidney cancer was not the news Carol Adams wanted to hear. But with the minimally invasive option offered by her Mayo care team, Carol's cancer treatment turned out to be quick and painless. Now the diagnosis and the cancer are behind her.


Carol Adams is only half-joking when she says she's had root canals that were worse than the treatment she underwent to kill a cancerous mass on her kidney. "It was as if I had gone out to lunch and come back," Carol says of her minimally invasive microwave ablation treatment. "I still marvel at it."

Carol's journey began in March when she had knee replacement surgery. While recovering, she became short of breath and went to the Emergency Department, where a CT scan revealed blood clots in her right lung. She received treatment and later had another CT scan performed.

"That CT scan caught the top of my kidneys, and on my left kidney, they discovered a spot," Carol says.

An unexpected problem

Melissa Nissen, M.D., a urologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, says characteristics revealed on the CT scan made it more likely that the spot on Carol's kidney was a solid mass — causing concern that it was a cancerous lesion rather than a cystic lesion. Dr. Nissen referred Carol to Jeremy McBride, M.D., a Mayo Clinic Health System interventional radiologist, for an ultrasound, biopsy and further workup.

"It did turn out to be cancer, meaning it had the ability to spread to other parts of her body if it had been left alone and nothing was done," Dr. McBride says.

"Dr. Nissen and Dr. McBride explained everything so calmly and are such competent people that I immediately felt at ease."

Carol Adams

It was time to devise a plan. Although Carol had a variety of treatment choices available to her — from active surveillance to surgery — she chose microwave ablation.

For the procedure, Dr. McBride placed two microwave needles through two 2-millimeter needle holes in Carol's side, using CT guidance while Carol was under general anesthesia. Then he biopsied the mass through a third 2-millimeter needle hole. After the biopsy, the microwave needles were activated, destroying the tumor. From start to finish, the entire process took 90 minutes.

"I got to my room. I had no pain whatsoever, and I was discharged from the hospital two or three hours later," Carol says. "I went home, was fine, had no pain pills, no side effects. That was it, and it's been good ever since."

A reassuring voice

Carol describes the care she received from her medical team as extraordinary. "I am just so pleased," she says. "For a while, it seemed like it was just one thing after another, and I was getting frustrated. But Dr. Nissen and Dr. McBride explained everything so calmly and are such competent people that I immediately felt at ease."

Breaking tough news in a composed and even-keel manner is key in what can be stressful times, Dr. Nissen says. "I like to put myself in their shoes," she says. "Carol already had a rough month before she met me. Her orthopedic surgery was successful, but unfortunately complicated by a pulmonary embolism. I wanted to provide reassurance."

The two discussed that even though the mass on Carol's kidney was likely cancerous, it was small, and they caught it early. Because of that, Carol had several treatment options that could cure the cancer with a very low likelihood that it would return.

"That procedure was unbelievable. It just amazes me."

Carol Adams

Dr. Nissen says Carol's story is one that other people in similar situations should note. "Minimally invasive approaches are good options in patients who are older or have medical comorbidities," she says. "Even though I'm a surgeon, and I like to operate, I like to make sure patients know all of their options, including minimally invasive approaches that offer disease-free survival rates that are comparable to surgery."

Carol says that she's told all her friends about her cancer treatment. "That procedure was unbelievable. It just amazes me," she says. "Everybody I run into, I tell about it because it's just so beyond what you would think."

Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.


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Tags: Cancer, Dr. Jeremy McBride, Dr. Melissa Nissen, kidney cancer, Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Microwave ablation

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