The advent of new technologies and medicine has led to a wide range of new and exciting therapies designed to support health and reduce the symptoms of diseases. Cryotherapy is one of these new forms of treatment, and experts have determined a variety of potential applications for this therapy, including certain forms of cancer. Learn more about cryotherapy, particularly its uses for cancer, and the procedure details below.
Simply meaning “cold therapy,” cryotherapy is a treatment that involves the application of extreme cold temperatures to enact certain physiological effects. The cells in your body are generally unable to survive these cold temperatures and die off as a result of the treatment.
Cryotherapy appears in a few different forms. Whole body cryotherapy is one of the more well-known forms of this unique treatment, particularly among athletes. This involves a person standing in a special chamber that drops the temperature to negative 200 to 300° Fahrenheit.
Another form of cryotherapy involves the application of extreme cold to a localized area as a means of freezing, damaging, and destroying abnormal tissue, including cancerous cells and tumors. Also known as cryoablation, this form of cryotherapy is minimally invasive and can usually be performed without open surgery, which prevents the need for anesthetic, minimizes pain, and allows for faster recovery.
What Does Cryotherapy Do?
As mentioned, cryotherapy offers a wide range of potential applications that science is still studying. Whole body cryotherapy is believed to have anti-aging properties and help joints heal. It is particularly popular among athletes because it may help to speed up muscle recovery after intense training while also increasing metabolism to support weight loss.
Cryoablation is already commonly used to remove smaller tissue abnormalities on the skin, like warts and skin tags. However, cryoablation can also be applied to other skin conditions and there is even cryotherapy for cancer. When used for cancer, cryoablation may also be referred to as percutaneous cryoablation, cryosurgery, or simply cryotherapy.
Thanks to its ease of administration and minimally invasive process, cryoablation can be used on both external and internal tissues. Your doctor may recommend cryotherapy to reduce:
- Bone cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Precancerous cells in the cervix
- Precancerous skin conditions
- Certain skin cancers in their early stages, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma
- Retinoblastoma (a form of cancer that forms in the retina)
Cryoablation may also be used as a method of relieving pain, discomfort, and other symptoms caused by cancer that metastasizes to the bones and other organs in the body.
How Is Cryotherapy Administered?
So, how does cryotherapy work? Your healthcare provider can use a few different substances to drastically reduce temperatures for cryotherapy. The most commonly used substances include:
- Argon gas
- Liquid nitrogen
- Liquid nitrous oxide
If the targeted tissue is located externally on the surface of your skin, your doctor will use a cotton swab or spray device to apply the freezing agent to the tissue. The frozen tissue will blister and peel off, allowing healthy skin to grow back anew. For external cryotherapy, most doctors will use liquid nitrogen.
For any internal tissues, your specialist will use an instrument called a cryoprobe. This is a thin, wand-like device that can be inserted into the skin via a small incision. This allows your doctor to directly apply the freezing agent into the cancerous tumor. After freezing, the tissue is allowed to thaw. This process is repeated several times in one treatment session. As the abnormal cells freeze and die, the immune system clears the dead tissue from your body and flushes it out as normal.
Internal cryotherapy may require a local anesthesia to numb the affected area. This reduces any discomfort and eliminates pain from the small incision. For some cases, your doctor may use a general anesthesia, which puts you to sleep during the length of the procedure. Your doctor may also use ultrasound or CT scan imaging techniques to locate the cancerous tissue and guide the cryoprobe to the affected area.
Recovering from a Cryotherapy Session
As cryotherapy is so minimally invasive, the recovery period is relatively short. For external conditions, the treated area may be red and possibly blistery after treatment. Granted it is still an open wound, so your doctor will inform you of any necessary care to prevent possible infection of the area. However, any mild pain or discomfort should go away within a few days, and the treated area will eventually scab over and should completely heal within one to three weeks.
For internal cryotherapy, patients may experience some minor pain and soreness in the treated area that can last a few days. Women who have had cryotherapy applied to cervical tissue may experience a watery discharge for a few days to a few weeks following treatment. You may also need to limit your activity for a few days, and depending on the tissue and the response to the therapy, you may need to return for multiple cryoablation sessions to completely remove the cancerous cells.
Potential Benefits of Cryotherapy
Along with its use as a means of destroying abnormal tissue, cryotherapy has been studied for other potential health cryo benefits. For those who ask, ‘Does cryotherapy work?” check out this article for greater detail on the effectiveness of cryotherapy.
Inflammation is a natural process that your immune system uses to fight potential infections and heal damaged tissue. However, in some cases, your immune system can become overactive, resulting in constant inflammation, which can have some severe side effects. Chronic inflammation is linked to conditions like arthritis, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
Some studies suggest that cryotherapy may help to reduce inflammation and keep it under control. Whole body cryotherapy was found to reduce inflammatory markers and inhibit oxidative stress.
Reduces Migraine Symptoms
Migraine headaches can be nearly debilitating. Along with moderate to severe throbbing pain, migraines can cause nausea, weakness, and a sensitivity to light and sound. While migraines have triggers in some people, the exact cause of migraines is still not well understood. However, studies suggest that targeted cryotherapy applies to the neck area may reduce or even prevent migraine headaches. Applying cold therapy that targets the carotid arteries in the neck was found to significantly reduce recorded pain.
Reduces Arthritic Pain
Arthritis is a condition that is characterized by inflammation in one or multiple joints. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis that have different causes and treatments, but almost all of them cause pain, swelling at the affected joints, and stiffness or a reduced range of motion.
Studies found that applying whole body cryotherapy to patients suffering from various rheumatic diseases significantly reduced pain levels. This pain reduction was found to last about 90 minutes, suggesting that it may be a helpful rehabilitation tool.
Cryotherapy for cancer is already a fairly well-understood treatment option that is minimally invasive. However, it is usually reserved for smaller tumors and cancers in early stages. There are thankfully other treatment options for other forms of cancer. If you are not sure if cryoablation is right for you, consult your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for your specific needs.
Written By: Dr. David Alvarez
Dr. David Alvarez is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Xochicalco and Certified by the American Heart Association (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support).
Dr. Alvarez has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista as an Assistant Medical Director at the Immunity Therapy Center for over 6 years. He provides daily on site patient care and participates on the medical board on research and development of patient treatment plans and programs. Dr. Alvarez is a knowledgeable and compassionate Doctor committed to helping patients get to where they want to be health wise through a more holistic and comprehensive approach.
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.