Cryosurgery, sometimes called cryotherapy, is the process of using the extremely cold temperatures produced by liquid nitrogen or argon gas in a controlled fashion in order to destroy abnormal or diseased tissue. Cryosurgery is usually an effective process because the freezing temperatures cause ice crystals to form inside of the selected tissue, causing the abnormal cells to tear apart.
For external skin problems, cryosurgery can be a highly effective, quick treatment requiring no recovery time. Liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the abnormal cells with a cotton swab or a spraying device, thereby deadening the skin which will later fall off all on its own. Cryosurgery is the most common way physicians get rid of warts, moles, and skin tags. Small patches of skin cancer and precancerous skin cells are also candidates for successful cryosurgical treatment.
Cryosurgery can also be used to treat internal disorders. Prostate cancer, cervical disorders, liver cancer, and even hemorrhoids have all been effectively treated with cryosurgery. Cryosurgery is currently being evaluated as a treatment for several other cancers, including colon, kidney, and breast cancer. Researchers are also evaluating the effectiveness of cryosurgery when used in conjunction with other cancer treatments such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.
To treat internal conditions, liquid nitrogen or argon gas is circulated through a hollow tube called a cryoprobe, which is placed in contact with the problem area. A ball of ice crystals forms around the probe, freezing the nearby cells. After cryosurgery, the frozen tissue thaws and is naturally absorbed by the body.
Cryosurgery can have side effects, but they tend to be less severe than the risks associated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. Side effects vary depending on where the tumor is located. If the cervix is treated, a woman can experience some bleeding, pain, or cramping. If skin cancer is treated, the patient may have swelling, scarring, or a burning sensation in the treated area. If the process is used to treat tumors of the bone, cryosurgery could cause nearby bone tissue to be destroyed or fractured.
Despite these risks, cryosurgery has many advantages. It is far less invasive than traditional surgical methods, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy and far less expensive as well. Physicians are able to focus the cryosurgical treatment on the problem area only, thereby limiting the destruction of healthy tissue. Cryosurgery is becoming increasingly popular with patients who are not good candidates for traditional surgical methods because of age or other medical conditions.