Cryoablation, also referred to as cryotherapy, is a minimally invasive procedure that uses extremely cold temperatures to destroy diseased tissue. In certain clinical situations, it can be preferred over other techniques and has a faster recovery time.
What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also called cryosurgery, cryoablation or targeted cryoablation therapy, refers to the application of extreme cold to destroy diseased tissue, including cancer cells. Cryotherapy can be used to destroy skin tumors, precancerous skin moles, nodules, skin tags or unsightly freckles.
With the improvement of imaging techniques and the development of devices to better control extreme temperatures, Karmanos Cancer Center physicians use cryotherapy as a treatment for patients with the following conditions:
- Prostate cancer
- Liver tumors (usually spread from other organs)
- Cervical cancer
- Benign & malignant breast tumors (cryotherapy to treat malignant breast tumors is still considered experimental)
How does it work?
For external masses, liquid nitrogen is applied directly with a cotton swab or spray device. For internal tumors, cryotherapy is carried out by using a cryoprobe, a thin wand-like device with a handle or trigger or a series of small needles, attached via tubing to a source of nitrogen or argon, which super-cools the probe tip.
The cryoprobe is placed in the proper position using imaging guidance, and as internal tissue is being frozen, the physician avoids damaging healthy tissue by viewing the movement of the probe on ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MRI) images transmitted to a monitor similar to a television screen.
Once the cells are destroyed, components of the immune system clear out the dead tissue. Patients undergoing cryosurgery usually experience minor-to-moderate localized pain and redness, which can be alleviated by aspirin or ibuprofen and application of topical steroid cream. Blisters may form, but these usually scab over and peel away.
What are the benefits vs. risks?
Cryosurgery is a minimally invasive procedure, and can be preferred to more traditional kinds of surgery because of its minimal pain, scarring, and cost; however, as with any medical treatment, there are risks involved, primarily that of damage to nearby healthy tissue and the potential for not freezing the entire tumor. Damage to nerve tissue is of particular concern.
Karmanos Cryotherapy Specialists
Michael Cher, M.D. (prostate)
Peter Littrup, M.D.