Cryotherapy for Cancer

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Cryotherapy is a form of pain treatment method is which localized temperatures in which localized freezing temperatures are used to deaden an irritated nerve. It can also be used to treat some forms of cancers such as prostate cancer as well as for treating abnormal skin cells by dermatologists. Although you can receive benefits from just one session of cryotherapy, it is more effective when it is used on a regular basis. Some athletes even use it twice a day, while there are also others who use it daily for 10 days and after that go once a month.

Although unpleasant to begin with, once you get used to the treatment, cryotherapy gets better, as the body adjusts to the new temperature. Although it is generally safe, it is best that you talk to your doctor before you try it. However, people who have severe high blood pressure or heart conditions should not try it as well as pregnant women and children. For safety reasons, it is important for a person to note that they shouldn’t sleep during cryotherapy and one should check time each for session as well, to make sure that it is not any longer than the timeframe which has been recommended.

Cryotherapy for Cancer

Cryotherapy is now also used to treat different types of cancer as well as precancerous conditions. In addition to prostate and liver cancer, it can be effective in treating the following-

  • Early-stage skin cancers
  • Precancerous skin growths which are called actinic keratosis.
  • Retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer known for affecting the retina of the eye. According to doctors, cryotherapy is most effective when the tumor is still small, and only in parts of the retina.
  • Precancerous conditions of the cervix called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia.


Sometimes cryotherapy is also used to treat low-grade cancerous as well as non-cancerous tumors of the bone. This can reduce the risk of joint damage if we compare it to extensive surgery, and also lessen the need for an amputation. It is also used to treat Kaposi sarcoma, an AIDS-related condition where the skin lesions are small and localized.


Some physicians recommend taking ibuprofen before cryotherapy to relieve small discomforts that you might go through. Some doctors might also give you antibiotics before cryotherapy to guard you against infection. For deeper treatment involving tumors, patients need to avoid blood-thinning medications for the recommended period of time before the treatment.

It is important that you let your doctor known about all kinds of medications that you take, including herbal supplements. If you have any kind of allergies to anesthesia, you need to let him know as well.


Cryotherapy is often performed by a specially trained interventional radiologist in an interventional radiology suite or sometimes in the operating room. Though this procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis, some patients might require admission following the procedure. The entire procedure can take between one to three hours.

First, you will be positioned on the procedure table, after which your physician will apply liquid nitrogen to the area with a cotton swab or spray device. For tumors that are deep inside the body, that can be approached through the skin, your physician will need to perform a percutaneous procedure and insert thin, needle-sized applicators or cryoprobes.

You might be connected to monitors so that your heart rate, oxygen level and blood pressure can be tracked. Then an intravenous line will be inserted into a vein in your hand to administer a sedative. Some patients might also require general anesthesia.

The area where the applicators or cryoprobes will need to be inserted will be shaved, sterilized and covered with a sterile drape. With the help of imaging guidance, the physician will insert one or more applicators or cryoprobes through your skin to the site of the diseased tissue. Once they are in place, the liquid nitrogen or argon gas will be delivered. Nothing else enters the body, other than the cryoprobes.

An “ice ball” will be created by a rapid decrease in the temperature at the tip of the probe. This will freeze all water in the area around the tip of the probe. Imaging will be used to guide the placement of the applicators as well as to monitor the freezing process. The “ice ball” can be visualized through imaging methods such as ultrasound, CT or MRI.

Multiple applicators might be required in some tumors to freeze completely. In cases of prostate cancer, six to eight applications are inserted through the perineum using ultrasound guidance. At the end of this procedure, the applicators will be removed, after which pressure will be applied to help the bleeding stop. The bandage will be used to cover the opening in the skin. Before you leave, your IV line will be removed.


  • The puncture and the freezing of tissues can result in bleeding.
  • Sometimes there can be damage to normal structures. The bile duct can sometimes get injured during liver cryotherapy. During kidney cryotherapy, the ureter or collecting system can get damaged.
  • If the procedure is performed in or near the lung, it can cause the lungs to collapse.
  • Complications related to medications such as anesthesia, which was administered during the procedure might sometimes occur.
  • This procedure can also involve exposure to X-rays, though radiation risk is a small factor if you compare it to the benefits of this procedure.

Other benefits

Other than cancer, cryotherapy can be help in the following-

Reduces Migraine Symptoms: Cryotherapy can help in treating migraines by cooling and numbing the nerves located in the back area. If you apply a neck wrap with two frozen ice packs to the carotid arteries in the neck, this can be very efficient in reducing migraine pain significantly. This is said to work by cooling the blood that is passing through the intracranial vessels.

Helps with mood disorders: The ultra-cold temperatures in cryotherapy can lead to a physiological hormonal response, which includes the release of chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline as well as endorphins. This has a positive effect on those who experience mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. According to a study, the whole body-cryotherapy was effective as a short-term treatment for both.

Help in the Prevention of Dementia or Alzheimer’s: Although still more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this, it has been theorized that whole-body cryotherapy can also help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s as well as other types of dementia. This could be an effective treatment as anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of cryotherapy can help in combating the inflammatory and oxidative stress response which occurs with Alzheimer’s.

Reduction of arthritic pain: According to studies, whole-body cryotherapy can significantly reduce the pain that comes with arthritis. It can also allow more aggressive physiotherapy, as well as occupational therapy which will make rehabilitation programs more effective.

Numbs Nerve Irritation: For years, many athletes have been using cryotherapy in order to treat their injuries. One of the reasons it is used is because it can help in numbing pain, as the cold helps in numbing down the irritated nerve. Doctors will treat the affected area, which is inserted into the nearby tissue and this can help treat pinched nerves or neuromas, acute injuries or chronic pain.

Helping in Weight Loss: It is claimed that just a few minutes of cold can help in increasing the metabolism of the body for the entire day. However, it is important to remember that cryotherapy alone cannot lead to weight loss, but it can definitely in the process; as being cold can force the body to work harder to stay warm.

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