Cryoablation is a medical treatment that has a range of uses. Most commonly it is used to treat cancers using extremely cold temperatures to freeze tumor cells.
You may also see cryoablation called cryotherapy or cryosurgery. These names all refer to the same procedure.
In this article, you’ll learn what cryoablation is, how it is administered, the main benefits and risks of the procedure, and the treatment options after cryoablation.
What is cryoablation?
Cryoablation is a type of cryotherapy, which is a minimally-invasive procedure that is used in the freezing of disease tissue. It is commonly used to treat cancer patients.
Cryoablation as a practice is a form of interventional radiology that uses extremely cold temperatures to freeze precancerous and cancerous cells.
You may be offered cryotherapy to freeze the ends of the nerves and reduce pain signals. It can also be used to remove skin tags, freckles, and nodules .
This procedure is used in the treatment of a range of different cancers, including:
Cryoablation can also be used to reduce pain and symptoms associated with cancer. Most commonly, it is used for patients who are unable to undergo surgical procedures to remove cancer cells or those who are too high risk to operate on.
It may be used as part of an extensive treatment program alongside other therapies, depending on the patient’s needs. The size, site, and stage of the tumor will be identified prior to cryoablation to ensure that only the cancerous cells are eliminated.
How is the cryoablation procedure administered?
Cryotherapy is administered by a medical professional using a small, needle-like application known as a cryoprobe. Liquid nitrogen or high-pressure argon gas is passed through this cryoprobe and sprayed directly onto the damaged or cancerous cells, forming a small white area around them (known as thawing).
The whole cryoablation procedure takes just a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the volume of cells that need to be destroyed.
If you are undergoing cryotherapy due to cancer, the cryoprobe will be inserted into the area of interest and liquid nitrogen will be sprayed over the cancerous cells. This procedure is usually done percutaneously (through the skin) or via a scope, depending on where the cancer is in your body.
If the cancer is deep inside one of your organs, your doctor might need to use a laparoscope, which is a flexible tube with a small camera on the end. The camera enables the doctor to view the area more clearly and aim the liquid nitrogen in the exact area.
Prior to the procedure, a healthcare professional will insert an intravenous catheter to administer IV anesthetics. This will numb the area and reduce any pain or discomfort throughout the cryotherapy. They may also apply an anesthetic cream directly onto the skin.
Similarly, if cryoablation is being used to freeze the ends of painful nerves, a small cryoprobe will be inserted into the surrounding tissue. The liquid nitrogen freezes the end of the nerve to relieve pain.
Who is most likely to receive the cryoablation procedure?
The use of cryoablation for the freezing of disease tissue is used globally for both men and women. Predominantly, cryoablation patients are in the older generations.
Those above the age of 50 are more likely to get a cancer diagnosis and, therefore, there are more people undergoing cryoablation above this age than there are below. However, cancer is not impossible in childhood and early adulthood, and cryoablation may still be offered to younger cancer patients.
Older adults are also more likely to experience nerve pain due to long-term venous insufficiency or chronic illness.
All of this makes those aged 50 years and up are more likely to undergo cryosurgical procedures.
What are the treatment options after cryoablation?
Post-procedure, you might need to stay in the hospital overnight so that the medical team can monitor you. Depending on the size of your tumor mass, you might need to have multiple cryoablation sessions to fully remove the tumor cells.
Shortly after cryotherapy, a small white crust may appear over the wounded area of the skin. This should fall off naturally after a week or two along with the dead cancer cells if they are near to the surface of the skin.
You experience any severe pain shortly after the procedure, the medical professionals at the healthcare facility will provide IV or oral pain killers. They may also give you a prescription for over-the-counter medications to relieve your pain over the following weeks.
Although side effects can occur, most patients don’t experience pain around the wound site or adverse effects after a cryoablation procedure.
What are the benefits and risks of cryoablation?
As with every medical procedure, there are always risks involved in cryoablation procedures.
However, it is used and recommended by medical professionals across the globe. It has high success rates of up to 98% . It is one of the few effective treatments that works to permanently remove a range of cancer cancers that can affect many areas of the body .
Here are some of the key benefits and risks of cryoablation.
Benefits of cryoablation
- The recovery time is quicker than other surgical procedures for cancer cell removal.
- Patients usually only need to stay in hospital overnight after a cryoablation procedure.
- Over-the-counter pain relief is usually sufficient to provide comfort after the procedure.
- Cryoablation is less traumatic than other forms of cancer treatment.
Risks of Cryoablation
- There is always a risk of freezing or damaging normal, healthy tissue.
- You may feel pain or have redness and swelling around the wound site.
- The procedure will leave a small scar by the excision site.
- Although small, there is a risk of wound infection after the procedure.
- If the cryoablation is near to the abdomen, it can result in fluid retention or accumulation around the major organs, such as the lungs.
- Nerve damage is a potential side effect of using cryoablation to freeze painful nerves.
- The procedure may involve exposure to X-ray radiation