What is cryosurgery?
A Cryosurgery is a form of treatment that utilizes intense cold to destroy cancer cells. Also called cryotherapy or cryoablation. During a Cryosurgery session, the physician freezes the cancer cells to kill them. All cells contain water including cancer cells. When the cells are frozen by cryotherapy the water turns into ice crystals. Along with the cold itself, these ice crystals destroy the cancer cells.
Cryotherapy is a type of local treatment, meaning it only treats the area you are treated in. For other areas of the body, it does not contain any cancer cells. The body’s immune system gets rid of the dead tissue within a couple of weeks after the operation.
What types of cancer can be treated with cryosurgery?
Cryosurgery is used to control numerous forms of cancer and some precancerous or noncancerous conditions.
Cryotherapy is used in the treatment of:
- Early-stage skin cancers
- Pre-cancerous skin moles
- Retinoblastomas (a cancer of the retina in children)
- Prostate cancer
- Liver cancer
- Precancerous conditions of the cervix called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia
- Low-grade cancerous and noncancerous tumours of the bone.
- AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma
Cryotherapy is also used to treat cancer in other areas of the body such as benign breast lumps called fibroadenomas, tumours in the kidneys and lungs.
How a Cryosurgery Is Performed?
Cryotherapy may be applied topically (on the surface of the skin), percutaneously (under the skin), or surgically. In the case of skin and eye infections, topical cryotherapy is usually used. When the lesion is located below the surface of the skin, it is necessary to place a needle-like therapy probe or applicator through the skin. A surgical incision is sometimes required when the tumour is deep inside the body.
When cryotherapy is performed under or inside the skin, one or more small needles, called cryoprobes, directly deliver either liquid nitrogen or argon gas to the cancer tissue. To precisely position, the cryoprobes in the right spot, an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan is used. People who have cryotherapy usually get local anaesthesia or a mild sedative in the area where the cryoprobes will be inserted. When the cells freeze, they die and then the body gradually absorbs and eliminates them.
What are the side effects?
The experience of side effect is different for everyone. Some people do have a lot of side effects. Some people have very less to none. Cryosurgery side effects will mainly depend on:
- the area treated
- the size of the tumour
- damage to nearby tissue
- your overall health
After cryosurgery, side effects may occur at any time. It may occur immediately after or a few days or weeks after the procedure. Late side effects occasionally develop months or years after the Cryosurgery. Most side effects will go away on its own or can be treated using medications. Complementary and alternative therapies play an effective role in managing the side effects and improving quality of life after Cryosurgery.
The sooner they become aware of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you cope. If you have these side effects, you think could be from your cryosurgery, notify your health-care team:
- Lower body temperature
- Shinohara, K., Sarantou, T. & Foshag, L. J. Cryosurgery. Ko, A. H., Dollinger, M., & Rosenbaum, E. (2008). Everyone’s Guide to Cancer Therapy: How Cancer is Diagnosed, Treated and Managed Day to Day. (5th Edition). Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing. 12: pp. 101-108.