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Cryosurgery allows providers to treat cancerous tumors inside or outside the body by freezing and killing abnormal cells. Freezing abnormal cells has shown promise in the treatment of prostate and liver cancers including cancers that have spread to the liver from another site like the colon or rectum. The approach is beneficial for patients who are not a candidate for more invasive surgical approaches and may be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments including chemo or radiation therapies. Researchers are continuing to study its use in kidney (renal) cancer management.
To freeze cancerous cells inside the body (not on the skin’s surface) a trained physician or interventional radiologist will use real-time ultrasound images to guide a small hallow wand called a cryoprobe into a tumor for treatment. Ultrasound technology, also called a sonogram, is the same technology used to view a baby before birth. Ultrasounds send out painless sound waves that bounce off organs or other structures inside the body and send an image back to a monitor. This technology allows the physician to target a tumor with pinpoint accuracy and then administer a freezing agent like liquid nitrogen or argon gas into the abnormal cells with minimal disruption or damage to surrounding tissue. Once the tissue has been frozen, it will thaw and the damaged cells are reabsorbed by the body.
Risks from cryosurgery do exist but tend to be less severe than other management approaches like surgery or radiation therapy and risks will vary depending on the location of the tumor and part of the body being treated. Cryosurgery may only be able to treat tumors large enough to be detected with ultrasound. Smaller cancers may be missed, increasing the likelihood of a future recurrence. Treatment of liver tumors with cryosurgery can also damage bile ducts or other blood vessels thereby increasing the risk for hemorrhage or bleeding.
Cryosurgery offers a variety of benefits. The minimally invasive approach allows providers to introduce the cryoprobe through a small incision in the skin, reducing common surgical complications like bleeding, pain and infection though the risk is not completely eliminated. The process also allows for a shorter hospital stay and may be done under local anesthesia; eliminating the need to be put to sleep.
Cryosurgery may be repeated several times and offers patients with inoperable tumors a treatment approach that can be combined with chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation treatments. Comorbidities or medical conditions that would restrict other surgical approaches do not restrict the use of cryosurgery.