What is Cryotherapy?

The field of cancer treatment is constantly evolving. Though standard cancer treatment options like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy are effective in managing most cancers, newer treatments like cryotherapy are showing immense potential. 

Cryotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses extreme cold to kill or destroy cancer cells. This treatment is also called cryosurgery or cryoablation, during which the oncosurgeon or oncologist freezes the cancer cells to kill them. 

In external cancers like those of the skin, liquid nitrogen is swabbed on the tumour to stop the cancer cells from growing. A small needle-like probe, called a cryoprobe containing liquid nitrogen or argon gas, is inserted into the body for internal cancers.

Cryotherapy has shown effectiveness in treating a wide range of cancers (benign and malignant) and pre-cancerous conditions and is considered a localised treatment.

Which Cancers Can be Treated With Cryotherapy?

Cryosurgery can be successfully used to treat several types of cancers:

  • Retinoblastoma (a type of eye cancer)
  • Skin cancers (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Skin conditions like actinic keratoses (a pre-cancerous conditions
  • AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Early stages of prostate cancer
  • Early-stage liver cancer that is confined to the liver
  • Bone cancers like chondrosarcoma
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Abnormal changes in the cervix or cervical precancer

How Does Cryosurgery Work?

Cryosurgery works on external and internal tumours. 

The doctor dabs or applies liquid nitrogen directly to the affected area for external tumours using a cotton swab or spray. After the procedure, the tissue freezes and forms a blister and eventually becomes a scab. This scab usually falls off in about three weeks.

For internal tumours, a cryoprobe is put inside the body via surgery to allow liquid nitrogen or argon gas to flow through it and freeze the cancer cells in the affected organ. The cryoprobe inserted into the body is usually guided via MRI or ultrasound to reduce any damage to healthy surrounding tissue. In some cases, more than one cryoprobe may be needed for treatment. When the frozen tissue thaws, the body’s immune system works to remove the cancer cells.

What to Expect During a Cryotherapy Treatment?

Before your cryotherapy treatment, your doctor will apply a topical anaesthetic to numb the area and make the procedure as painless as possible. You may experience some pain or discomfort when your doctor applies the liquid nitrogen to the affected area using a cotton swab or spray. This outpatient procedure may take a few minutes to perform in your doctor’s clinic.

You must follow the precautions and instructions given by your healthcare team after the procedure. The treated area turns into a blister a few hours after the procedure, which later becomes a scab and falls off.

Cryotherapy is a minimally-invasive procedure with a short recovery time. Though some people may require one night of hospital stay, most of them can go home the same day.

What are the Benefits of Cryotherapy for Cancer?

Like most advanced cancer treatments, cryotherapy offers plenty of benefits. These included:

  • Minimally-invasive
  • Requires only local anaesthesia
  • Useful for people who do not wish to undergo surgery or are not fit for one
  • Minimal side effects
  • Quick recovery
  • Performed as an outpatient procedure
  • Being a localised treatment, it helps preserve healthy tissues surrounding the cancer cells.
  • Reduced risk of permanent damage to joints
  • One of the best treatment options for early-stage prostate cancer and prevents recurrence.
  • An excellent option for cancers that do not respond to other treatments

Cryotherapy Side Effects

Though less often, cryotherapy may cause side effects in some people. These side effects depend upon factors, such as:

  • The area or organ being treated
  • Size of the tumour
  • Type of cancer
  • Damage to nearby tissues
  • Your overall health and fitness

Some side effects of cryotherapy that you may experience include:

  • It may cause cramping, pain or bleeding when used in treating cervical cancer.
  • It may cause swelling or scarring when used on the skin.
  • If a nerve is damaged during external cryotherapy, it may cause a loss of sensation.
  • When used to treat liver cancer, cryotherapy may increase the risk of damage to the bile duct or nearby major blood vessels.
  • When used to treat prostate cancer, cryotherapy may increase the risk of urinary incontinence, impotence or damage to the rectum. People who have undergone radiotherapy for their prostate cancer have a higher risk of developing side effects from cryotherapy.

Most side effects of cryotherapy are mild to moderate and resolve in a few days. One of the most significant drawbacks of cryotherapy is that its uses for some cancers are unknown.

Seeking a Second Opinion

Based on your clinical reports and diagnostic tests results, your doctor will determine the most suitable treatment plan for your cancer. If they feel cryotherapy will benefit you, they might recommend it to you. Since cryotherapy is a newer treatment option and is still being studied for its effectiveness in treating different cancers, you may ask your doctor for a second opinion.

Need help seeking a second opinion? Connect with us today!

Unfortuantely this test is not suitable.
You should see your GP directly