Cancer treatment options continue to grow and expand with new discoveries in science, technology, and medicine, but the disease still remains largely incurable. Current offerings for cancer treatment typically involve a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Cryotherapy is becoming a popular alternative cancer treatment that harnesses cold temperatures to reduce tumors. This can be intimidating to some people. How does cryotherapy work? Learn more about how this type of treatment is performed below.
Understanding Cryotherapy for Cancer
So, what is cryotherapy? Cryotherapy involves the use of extremely cold temperatures to bring about physiological changes. This can come in various forms, including whole body cryotherapy, a common application for athletes and bodybuilders looking to combat muscle soreness and inflammation.
Cryotherapy for cancer is often referred to as cryoablation or cryosurgery. In this form, a freezing agent is applied to a tumor or cancerous tissue. In this form of localized cryotherapy, cold temperatures cause damage to the abnormal cells, causing them to stop growing and die off. The body then flushes the dead cells from the body.
While it is already a common treatment for warts, skin tags, and other skin conditions, cryotherapy can be used as a treatment for several types of cancer, as well as some precancerous conditions. This includes:
- Cancer of the retina (retinoblastoma), which is most common in children
- Early-stage skin cancers, including basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas
- Actinic keratosis and other precancerous skin growths
- Cervical cancer
- Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, a precancerous condition characterized by abnormal cell changes in the cervix that could eventually develop into cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Lung cancer
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
Cryoablation can also be used to reduce or eliminate noncancerous or low-grade cancerous growths on the bone. This is one of the cryo benefits as it offers an option that reduces the risk of severe joint damage compared to other, more invasive forms of surgery.
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
To achieve the extreme cold temperatures, doctors can use a few different substances. The most common freezing agents are liquid nitrous oxide, liquid nitrogen, and argon gas. How cold is cryotherapy? The temperature can vary based on the type of cancer, but for some applications, temperatures can reach -75° Celsius (about -103° Fahrenheit).
A localized cryotherapy treatment can be used for both external and internal tissue. With external tissue, your doctor will use a spray or a cotton swab to apply the freezing agent. For most cancer-based applications, cryotherapy is applied internally to better reach the cancerous tissue. This requires a small incision and the use of a cryoprobe. A cryoprobe is a small, thin, wand-like needle that can be inserted into the incision to directly apply the freezing agent to the cancer cells. Your doctor can pump the freezing substance through the cryoprobe, into the affected tissue.
Once frozen, the treated area is allowed to thaw before being frozen again. This cycle is repeated several times during the session, allowing for the cancerous cells to die properly. This may also be performed over the course of several sessions to ensure that all cancerous cells are properly destroyed. The dead or damaged cells are cleared out of the body via your immune system.
Your doctor will likely use a local anesthetic to make the small incision, though depending on the location of the cancer, you may also be put under a general anesthetic. Your doctor will also use a CT scan or ultrasound to guide the cryoprobe to the proper site.
So, does cryotherapy work? Ongoing studies are looking at the effectiveness of cryoablation on other types of cancer cells. Research is also looking at how cryotherapy may interact when used in conjunction with other treatments, like radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
While cryoablation has been shown to be an effective treatment, it is most often recommended for smaller tumors and precancerous conditions. If you are wondering if cryotherapy treatment is right for you, consult your doctor.
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.