What Is Surgical Ablation and How Are They Performed?

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A Surgeon At Work. Image: © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Definition: In medicine, the term ablation means to remove tissue from the body.  This process can be used to remove a tiny piece of tissue, or a large quantity of tissue. There are many types of ablations and multiple techniques that are used to perform the removal of tissue, depending on the nature of the issue. 

An appendectomy, the procedure to remove an infected appendix, is considered a type of ablation.

 During this procedure, a scalpel or laparoscopic instruments are used to cut the diseased appendix away from the healthy tissue that is being left in the body. 

Other types of surgical ablation may be performed with a laser, and for others, radio frequency emissions may be used.  Both of these techniques heat tissue to the point where the tissue dies, and target only the tissue that needs to be removed. Radio-frequency ablations are often used when a person is experiencing issues with their heart that are caused by signals being conducted through the heart in a way that interferes with heart function.  In these cases, ablation is used to remove the conduction pathways that are contributing to the problem.

For a uterine ablation to treat dysfunctional menstrual bleeding, a balloon of hot water is typically used to damage the tissues that line the uterus, so that menstrual bleeding is dramatically decreased or eliminated altogether.


Some types of ablation use medications rather than heat or cutting.  For example, chemotherapy can be used to target cancer cells and remove the cells from the body without surgery.

Pronunciation: a-BLAY-shun

Common Misspellings: abblation, ablasion, ublation, 

Examples: She decided to try ablation for her endometriosis and severe menstrual bleeding before going forward with the much more invasive hysterectomy procedure.

The patient continued to experience supraventricular tachycardia, a serious disruption in the rhythm of the heart, so an ablation was performed to treat the problem.