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What is Cryoablation?

Cryoablation, also called cryosurgery, cryotherapy, percutaneous cryotherapy or targeted cryoablation therapy, is a minimally invasive treatment that uses extreme cold to freeze and destroy diseased tissue, including cancer cells. Although cryotherapy and cryoablation can be used interchangeably, the term "cryosurgery" is best reserved for cryotherapy performed using an open, surgical approach.

During cryotherapy, liquid nitrogen or high pressure argon gas flows into a needle-like applicator (a cryoprobe) creating intense cold that is placed in contact to diseased tissue. Physicians use image-guidance techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) to help guide the cryoprobes to treatment sites located inside the body.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

Cryotherapy can be applied topically (on the skin surface), percutaneously, or surgically. Topical cryotherapy is used typically in the case of skin and eye lesions. When the lesion is situated below the skin surface, a needle-like therapy probe or applicator needs to be placed through the skin. Occasionally, a surgical incision is required.

Cryotherapy is used to treat:

  • cervical, liver, and prostate cancers, especially if surgical resection is not possible.
  • skin tumors.
  • pre-cancerous skin moles.
  • nodules.
  • skin tags.
  • unsightly freckles.
  • retinoblastomas, a childhood cancer of the retina.

Cryotherapy is also being used to treat tumors in other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, bones (including the spine), lungs, and breasts (including benign breast lumps called fibroadenomas). Although further research is needed to determine its long term effectiveness, cryotherapy has been shown to be effective in selected patients.