Science and medicine continue to look at new potential avenues for treating cancer. Where current treatments often weaken your natural immunities or require long recovery periods, other alternative treatments aim to reduce tumor size and improve symptoms associated with cancer through noninvasive means.
What Is Cryotherapy for Cancer?
So, what is cryotherapy? Cryotherapy, which simply means “cold therapy,” can refer to various types of treatment involving the application of extreme cold to the body to create physiological changes. Athletes use both localized cryotherapy as well as whole body cryotherapy to treat muscle pain and inflammation, much like how an ice pack can be used to relieve sore muscles. Cryotherapy for cancer involves the application of extreme cold temperatures to abnormal tissues to freeze and destroy them. Cancer cells are unable to survive these freezing temperatures and quickly die off.
This procedure, which is also commonly referred to as cryoablation or cryosurgery, is commonly used for common skin conditions, including skin tags and warts. The same process may extend to certain internal and external tumors and cancers. Your doctor may recommend cryoablation for:
- Bone cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Precancerous cells in the cervix
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Early-stage skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma
- Precancerous skin conditions
- Cancer in the retina (retinoblastoma)
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
Cryotherapy can be administered externally or internally. Doctors can use a few different substances to achieve extremely low temperatures, including argon gas, liquid nitrogen, and liquid nitrous oxide. For external uses, the doctor will use a spray device or a cotton swab to apply the freezing agent, which is typically liquid nitrogen.
Cryotherapy for cancer usually requires accessing cancerous cells internally. This is accomplished using a tool called a cryoprobe. A cryoprobe is a thin, wand-like needle that can be inserted into an incision in the skin to reach a tumor directly. The doctor pumps the freezing agent through the cryoprobe to freeze the cancerous tissue. The doctor then allows the tissue to thaw before repeating the process. This cycle continues several times during the same cryotherapy session to fully kill the abnormal cells. Your doctor may also recommend multiple treatment sessions to ensure that the cells are completely destroyed. As the cells freeze and die, your immune system flushes the dead tissue out of your body.
For pain relief, it’s likely your doctor will apply a local anesthetic for the incision, though you may get a general anesthetic depending on the type of cancer involved. The doctor will also use an ultrasound or CT scan to guide the cryoprobe to the affected area.
Internal cryoablation can lead to some mild pain, soreness, or discomfort, but that should subside over the course of a few days. Cryotherapy applied to the cervix may result in watery discharge for a few days to a few weeks.
External cryotherapy will cause the skin to turn red and blistery, similar to a bad sunburn. Any pain or discomfort should be mild and subside within a few days of the cryotherapy session. The area will eventually scab over and heal as normal.
Is Cryotherapy Effective?
Cryotherapy is widely used for several types of cancer, as well as for certain precancerous conditions. It is minimally invasive, preventing lengthy recovery periods and blood loss. Compared to more extensive surgeries, cryotherapy may also reduce the risk of joint damage for certain tumors of the bone.
Researchers are also assessing the effectiveness of cryotherapy when used in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other forms of treatment. Studies are also ongoing on the use of cryotherapy for other types of cancer.
Right now, cryotherapy is largely reserved for smaller tumors and cancer that is still in a relatively early stage. Cancer that has spread may require other treatment options. Consult your doctor to determine if cryotherapy is the right treatment for you.
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.