Published online Oct 7, 2016. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v22.i37.8257
Peer-review started: May 30, 2016
First decision: July 12, 2016
Revised: July 22, 2016
Accepted: August 10, 2016
Article in press: August 10, 2016
Published online: October 7, 2016
Most pancreatic cancers and extrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas are unresectable at the time of diagnosis, and even in case of a resectable cancer, for elderly or patients with coexistent comorbidities, surgery is not an option. Current treatment alternatives in these scenarios are very limited. Biliary stenting with self-expanding metal stents (SEMS) is the mainstay palliative treatment of biliary obstruction due to unresectable pancreatic cancer or cholangiocarcinoma. Nevertheless, more than 50% of SEMS become occluded after 6 mo due to tumour over- and ingrowth, leading to hospital readmissions and reinterventions that significantly impair quality of life. Regimes of chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy also provide minimal survival benefits. Therefore, novel therapies are eagerly awaited. Radiofrequency (RF) energy causes coagulative necrosis leading to local destruction of the accessed malignant tissue and has an established role in the treatment of malignancies in several solid organs, especially liver cancers. However, pancreatic and extrahepatic biliary cancers are not easily accessed by a percutaneous route, making the procedure dangerous. Over the past five years, the development of dedicated devices compatible with endoscopic instruments has offered a minimally invasive option for RF energy delivery in biliopancreatic cancers. Emerging experience with endoscopic RF ablation (RFA) in this setting has been reported in the literature, but little is known about its feasibility, efficacy and safety. A literature review makes it clear that RFA in biliopancreatic tumours is feasible with high rates of technical success and acceptable safety profile. Although available data suggest a benefit of survival with RFA, there is not enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion about its efficacy. For this reason, prospective randomized trials comparing RFA with standard palliative treatments with quality-of-life and survival endpoints are required. Anecdotal reports have also highlighted a potential curative role of RFA in small pancreatic tumours and benign conditions, such as ductal extension of ampullomas, intrahepatic adenomas or non-tumoural biliary strictures. These newest indications also deserve further examination in larger series of studies.
Core tip: Most pancreatic cancers and extrahepatic cholangiocarcinomas are unresectable at the time of diagnosis. Radiofrequency (RF) energy causes coagulative necrosis leading to local destruction of the accessed malignant tissue. Endoscopic RF has emerged as a novel ablative therapy. In the present study, we aim to review general principles and technical aspects and to evaluate clinical benefits and complications of endoscopy-guided RF in biliary and pancreatic indications based on recent literature.