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Alternative Names
cryosurgery, cryo

Cryotherapy is the use of extreme cold to treat medical conditions by destroying abnormal or diseased cells.

What is the information for this topic?
Cryotherapy commonly uses liquid nitrogen as the source of cold. Nitrogen is a naturally occurring ?gas? that can be artificially cooled into a liquid form. This requires very low temperatures. This type of treatment is used for a number of conditions, such as: For many lesions, liquid nitrogen is applied with a cotton-tipped applicator. A spraying device can also be used. The nitrogen is placed on the lesions until they are frozen and destroyed.

For internal tumours or cancer, liquid nitrogen is run through an instrument called a cryoprobe. This probe is placed in contact with the lesion. The doctor uses special imageing tests, such as ultrasound or a CT scan, to guide the probe. This helps prevent damage to nearby tissue. Some tumours or cancers may need a cycle of treatments. In these cases, the tumour is frozen, allowed to thaw, and then refrozen.

Cryotherapy offers some advantages over other methods of treatment. It is less invasive than regular surgery. It may eliminate the need for cuts in the skin. In other cases, only a small skin incision is needed so that a probe can be inserted into the body. Pain, bleeding, and other risks of surgery are reduced. It is often less expensive than other forms of surgery. The person often has a shorter recovery time.

For individuals with cancer, cryotherapy can be added to other standard treatments. This therapy may also be offered to a person whose cancer hasn't responded to normal treatments.

Cryotherapy, like almost all treatments, has side effects. However, they may be less severe than the side effects of regular surgery. The main risk is damage to surrounding healthy tissue. This can be quite serious, such as in brain surgery, when the healthy tissue is very important. Skin irritation, damage, and infection can occur when this therapy is used to treat skin conditions.

Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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