Cryotherapy for Cancer Treatment

Cryotherapy cancer treatment

What is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy is any type of treatment that uses extreme cold temperatures (usually freezing or close to freezing). It can be used to treat a number of conditions including warts and verrucae to cancer too. It may also be known as cryogenic therapy, cryosurgery or cryoablation.

Using Cryotherapy for Cancer

When this type of therapy is used to treat cancer, the extreme cold aims to destroy cancer cells in a localised area. Cryotherapy can be used to treat several different cancer types and precancerous conditions.

Regarded as a minimally invasive treatment, cryotherapy for cancer is usually a local treatment whereby it only treats the region of the body where you have the treatment, therefore minimising any damage to healthy cells. However, it also doesn’t treat cancer cells if they have spread to other areas of the body. After the treatment, the body’s immune system gets rid of the dead tissue over the course of a few weeks. 

Cryotherapy can also be used generally across the whole body to trigger an immune response and manage pain. Whole-body cryotherapy is often used to treat chronic pain or muscular conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.

What Types of Cancer is Cryotherapy Used to Treat?

Different factors will indicate whether you are suitable for this type of treatment, including the type of cancer you have, where it’s located on your body, whether it has spread to other parts and your medical history. Often, cryotherapy is found to be safe and effective at treating liver cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, bone cancer and skin cancer. Below you can find some helpful information on treating different types of cancer with cryotherapy and the implications.   

More research is needed into how effective cryosurgery is in treating other forms of cancer such as breast cancer however that there are early indications to suggest it could be a viable option in treating low-risk breast cancer.

As cryotherapy is a more modern treatment option, it is not currently widely available. You may have to take part in clinical trials and go to specialist centres to undergo this form of treatment.  This can be discussed with your care team who will advise you on whether the treatment is suitable for you and, if so, where it is available.

If you are unsure about whether cryotherapy could be an effective option for you, why not request a second opinion?

Cryotherapy for Prostate Cancer

If your prostate cancer is localised and hasn’t spread to other areas of the body, cryotherapy could be a good treatment option for you. It may also be used if the cancer has previously been treated with another form of therapy but has returned.

Cryotherapy for Skin Cancer

Cryotherapy is commonly used to treat skin cancers such as malignant non-melanomas and benign skin conditions. If you are suitable for cryotherapy, your doctor will spray liquid nitrogen over the affected area which freezes the cells and begins the process of thawing. A scab will form in the area and, as the scab falls off, the dead cancer cells will fall off too. With skin cancers, the procedure may have to be performed more than once to ensure all the cancerous cells have been killed.

Cryotherapy for Cervical Cancer

Cryotherapy is often used as a preventative treatment to reduce the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. It is used to kill and freeze abnormal HPV cells in the cervix that can be found in routine smear tests where the affected area is small. Where a high number of abnormal cells are found in the cervical canal, other forms of treatment such as a cone biopsy may be recommended instead. 

Cryotherapy for Liver Cancer

Cryosurgery may be a recommended option if you have liver cancer and the tumour is a primary or metastatic tumour, or when other treatment methods that have been ineffective have been used. Where surgery is also not an option, cryotherapy may be suggested. 

What are the Benefits of Cryotherapy Treatment?

Cryotherapy is a relatively new form of cancer treatment and therefore more research into the full range of benefits and drawbacks, as well as research into whether it is effective at preventing recurrences, is needed. However, initial research highlights the following advantages: 

  • It’s minimally invasive so damage to healthy tissue is reduced
  • Treatment is relatively painless
  • Effect on daily life is minimal, you be able to resume back to normal activities shortly after treatment.
  • Side effects are lower than other forms of cancer treatment.
  • You may be able to have this type of treatment more than once if the cancer returns.
  • Can be used in conjunction with other treatments otherwise known as combination therapy.

Are There Disadvantages to Cryotherapy?

While there are benefits to cryotherapy, there are some disadvantages to the treatment that you should think about before deciding whether to have this treatment. These include:

  • Having to stay in hospital overnight. This may be the case if you have a general anaesthetic.
  • Little is known about the long-term effects (after 10 years) or how effective it is in treating recurrent cancers.
  • It may not be available through your country’s healthcare system or in your home country.

What to Expect When Receiving Cryotherapy? 

During cryotherapy treatment the doctor freezes the cancer cells to kill them. Depending on where the cancer is, it may be an internal or external treatment. For example, with skin cancers, the lesion may be located on the skin and a spraying device used to apply the cold agent.

For internal procedures, your doctor will use a thin, long needle otherwise known as a cryoprobe that pierces the skin to create a slight cut, directing it into the tumour or precancerous cells in the affected region. An imaging device may be used so the physician can direct the probe to the correct area. Using a cold agent such as liquid nitrogen, liquid nitrous oxide or argon gas, which is pumped into the probe, the cells are then frozen. When cells are subject to extreme cold conditions, it’s difficult for them to survive and replicate, and over the course of the weeks after treatment, the cells then die.

While the procedure is over relatively quickly, you may be put under local or general anaesthetic to numb the area. This means you may have to stay in hospital overnight and arrange to be picked up after the treatment. Where you are anaesthetised, your care team may advise that you limit how much you eat or drink prior to the treatment and, while if you are taking certain medications, you may be advised to stop taking them for a couple of days before the treatment.

Potential Side Effects from the Treatment

When using cryotherapy to treat cancer, side effects are often minimal although there are some side effects that may be experienced, including:

  • Numbness or tingling in the affected area
  • Skin irritation or redness
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Infection
  • Frostbite
  • Cold panniculitis
  • A change in blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate
  • Erection or urinary problems – this may be reported in patients who have undergone the treatment for prostate cancer.

These side effects are unlikely to be long-term and will go away relatively quickly. If you are experiencing any side effects, your care team can provide treatment to help manage pain or infection so talk to them if you are concerned.

Explore Your Treatment Options

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and want to explore your options, OncoloMed can help guide you in finding the most appropriate treatment for you. Our services include second opinions, treatment facilitation and diagnostics, all of which can be accessed through our network of expert doctors and cancer clinics across the world.

Learn more about our services and how we can support you.

Discover how we have helped hundreds of patients in their cancer treatment journey by reading our patient stories.

Cryotherapy cancer treatment
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