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Clinical and cost effectiveness of endoscopic bipolar radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of malignant biliary obstruction: a systematic review

Lookup NU author(s): Fiona Beyer, Stephen RiceORCiD, Giovany Orozco LealORCiD, Madeleine StillORCiD, Hannah O'Keefe, Nicole O'ConnorORCiD, Akvile StoniuteORCiD, Professor Dawn CraigORCiD, Dr John LeedsORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Background: Early evidence suggests that using radiofrequency ablation as an adjunct to standard care (i.e. endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography with stenting) may improve outcomes in patients with malignant biliary obstruction. Objectives: To assess the clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and potential risks of endoscopic bipolar radiofrequency ablation for malignant biliary obstruction, and the value of future research. Data sources: Seven bibliographic databases, three websites and seven trials registers were searched from 2008 until 21 January 2021. Review methods: The study inclusion criteria were as follows: patients with biliary obstruction caused by any form of unresectable malignancy; the intervention was reported as an endoscopic biliary radiofrequency ablation to ablate malignant tissue that obstructs the bile or pancreatic ducts, either to fit a stent (primary radiofrequency ablation) or to clear an obstructed stent (secondary radiofrequency ablation); the primary outcomes were survival, quality of life or procedure-related adverse events; and the study design was a controlled study, an observational study or a case report. Risk of bias was assessed using Cochrane tools. The primary analysis was meta-analysis of the hazard ratio of mortality. Subgroup analyses were planned according to the type of probe, the type of stent (i.e. metal or plastic) and cancer type. A de novo Markov model was developed to model cost and quality-of-life outcomes associated with radiofrequency ablation in patients with primary advanced bile duct cancer. Insufficient data were available for pancreatic cancer and secondary bile duct cancer. An NHS and Personal Social Services perspective was adopted for the analysis. A probabilistic analysis was conducted to estimate the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for radiofrequency ablation and the probability that radiofrequency ablation was cost-effective at different thresholds. The population expected value of perfect information was estimated in total and for the effectiveness parameters. Results: Sixty-eight studies (1742 patients) were included in the systematic review. Four studies (336 participants) were combined in a meta-analysis, which showed that the pooled hazard ratio for mortality following primary radiofrequency ablation compared with a stent-only control was 0.34 (95% confidence interval 0.21 to 0.55). Little evidence relating to the impact on quality of life was found. There was no evidence to suggest an increased risk of cholangitis or pancreatitis, but radiofrequency ablation may be associated with an increase in cholecystitis. The results of the cost-effectiveness analysis were that the costs of radiofrequency ablation was £2659 and radiofrequency ablation produced 0.18 quality-adjusted life-years, which was more than no radiofrequency ablation on average. With an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of £14,392 per quality-adjusted life-year, radiofrequency ablation was likely to be cost-effective at a threshold of £20,000 per quality-adjusted life-year across most scenario analyses, with moderate uncertainty. The source of the vast majority of decision uncertainty lay in the effect of radiofrequency ablation on stent patency. Limitations: Only 6 of 18 comparative studies contributed to the survival meta-analysis, and few data were found concerning secondary radiofrequency ablation. The economic model and cost-effectiveness meta-analysis required simplification because of data limitations. Inconsistencies in standard reporting and study design were noted. Conclusions: Primary radiofrequency ablation increases survival and is likely to be cost-effective. The evidence for the impact of secondary radiofrequency ablation on survival and of quality of life is limited. There was a lack of robust clinical effectiveness data and, therefore, more information is needed for this indication. Future work: Future work investigating radiofrequency ablation must collect quality-of-life data. High-quality randomised controlled trials in secondary radiofrequency ablation are needed, with appropriate outcomes recorded. Study registration: This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42020170233. Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 27, No. 7. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.Radiofrequency ablation before inserting a stent could be a safe option to add to treatment of bile and pancreatic duct blockages caused by cancer. There is limited research evidence and so we are unable to recommend radiofrequency ablation as a treatment for standard clinical practice.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Beyer F, Rice S, Orozco-Leal G, Still M, O'Keefe H, O'Connor N, Stoniute A, Craig D, Pereira S, Carr L, Leeds J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Health Technology Assessment

Year: 2023

Volume: 27

Issue: 7

Pages: 1-118

Print publication date: 01/05/2023

Online publication date: 01/05/2023

Acceptance date: 01/06/2022

Date deposited: 07/06/2023

ISSN (print): 1366-5278

ISSN (electronic): 2046-4924

Publisher: National Coordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment


DOI: 10.3310/YYMN9802

PubMed id: 37212444


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)