Small renal masses (SRMs), enhancing tumors <4 cm in diameter, are suspicious for renal cell carcinoma (RCC). The incidence of SRMs have risen with the increased quality and frequency of imaging. Partial nephrectomy is widely accepted as a nephron-sparing approach for the management of clinically localized RCC, with a greater than 90% disease-specific survival for stage T1a. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has been emerging as an alternative management strategy, with evidence suggesting RFA as a safe alternative for SRMs. We aimed to evaluate the time to recurrence and recurrence rates of SRMs treated with RFA at our institution.
A retrospective review between October 2011 and May 2019 identified 141 patients with a single SRM treated with RFA at Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. Patients with familial syndromes and distant metastases were excluded. Repeat RFAs of the ipsilateral kidney for incomplete ablation were not considered a new procedure. The primary variable measured was time from initial ablation to recurrence. A Cox proportional hazard regression model was used to identify possible prognostic variables for tumor recurrence defined a priori, including age, gender, mass size, RENAL nephrometry, and PADUA scores.
The overall average age of our patients was 69.0±11.1 years, with 71.6% being male. Average tumor size was 2.6±0.8 cm. There was a total of 22/154 total recurrences (15.6%) post-RFA. Median followup time was 67 (18-161) months. Those with new recurrences had median time to recurrence of 15 months and no recurrence beyond 53 months. Thirteen of 141 patients had residual disease (9.2%) and were identified within the first eight months post-RFA. The only prognostic variable identified as a predictor of residual disease was tumor size (hazard ratio 2.265; p<0.001).
This study shows the risk of a new recurrence following RFA for SRMs is 6.4%. Most recurrences (9.2%) were a result of residual tumor at the ablation site identified within the first eight months post-RFA. No recurrences were identified beyond 53 months, with a total median followup time of 67 months. Tumor size alone, without need for complex scoring systems, may serve as a predictor of incomplete ablation following RFA and could be used to assist in shared decision-making on management strategies.

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