What Is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a technique that uses an extremely cold liquid or instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells that require removal. The technique has been in use since the turn of the century, but modern techniques have made it widely available to dermatologists and primary care doctors. The technique is also called cryosurgery. Cryotherapy can be employed to destroy a variety of benign skin growths, such as warts, pre-cancerous lesions (such as actinic keratoses), and malignant lesions (such as basal cell and squamous cell cancers). The goal of cryotherapy is to freeze and destroy targeted skin growths while preserving the surrounding skin from injury.
What Are The Benefits Of Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy can be applied topically (on the skin surface) or surgically. Topical cryotherapy is used typically in the case of skin and eye lesions. When the lesion is situated below the skin surface, a needle-like therapy probe or applicator needs to be placed through the skin. Occasionally, a surgical incision is required.
Cryotherapy Is Used To Treat:
- Skin tumors.
- Pre-cancerous skin moles.
- Skin tags.
- Unsightly freckles.
- Retinoblastomas, a childhood cancer of the retina.
- Prostate, liver, and cervical cancers, especially if surgical resection is not possible.
Cryotherapy is also being used to treat tumors in other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, bones (including the spine), lungs, and breasts (including benign breast lumps called fibroadenomas). Although further research is needed to determine its long term effectiveness, cryotherapy has been shown to be effective in selected patients. When an open surgical approach is taken, the recovery time following cryosurgery of kidney or liver tumors may be less than for open, surgical removal of the tumor.
- or percutaneous cryotherapy, the patient may stay overnight or be released several hours after the procedure. Cryotherapy causes less pain during and after the procedure compared to heat-based treatments such as radiofrequency ablation. Overnight stays for pain control are usually not needed.
- Percutaneous cryotherapy is less traumatic than open surgery since only a small incision is needed to pass the probe through the skin, which limits damage to healthy tissue. Consequently, percutaneous cryotherapy is less costly and results in fewer side effects than open surgery. A patient usually can resume activities of daily living 24 hours after the procedure, if not sooner. However, caution about heavy lifting may extend for several days after abdominal treatment.
For treatment of fibroadenomas, cryotherapy causes minimal scar tissue and no apparent calcifications.
Types of Cryotherapy:
There are three main techniques to performing cryotherapy.
In the simplest technique, usually reserved for warts and other benign skin growths, the physician will dip a cotton swab or other applicator into a cup containing a “cryogen,” such as liquid nitrogen, and apply it directly to the skin growth to freeze it. At a temperature of −320°F (−196°C), liquid nitrogen is the coldest cryogen available. The goal is to freeze the skin growth as quickly as possible, and then let it thaw slowly to cause maximum destruction of the skin cells.
A second application may be necessary depending on the size of the growth. In another cryotherapy technique, a device is used to direct a small spray of liquid nitrogen or other cryogen directly onto the skin growth. Freezing may last from five to 20 seconds, depending on the size of the lesion. A second freeze-thaw cycle may be required. Sometimes, the physician will insert a small needle connected to a thermometer into the lesion to make certain the lesion is cooled to a low enough temperature to guarantee maximum destruction.
In a third option, liquid nitrogen or another cryogen is circulated through a probe to cool it to low temperatures. The probe is then brought into direct contact with the skin lesion to freeze it. The freeze time can take two to three times longer than with the spray technique.
Reference: Various books and articles