Cryosurgery, also called cryotherapy or cryoablation, is the use of extreme cold to destroy tissue. In dermatology, cryosurgery is typically used for the removal of skin cancers, actinic keratoses, warts, and moles.
Cryosurgery destroys diseased or abnormal tissue by freezing it. The freezing process causes ice crystals to form inside cells. Since ice takes up more space than water, this causes the cells to tear apart. Furthermore, blood vessels supplying the diseased tissue freeze, causing more damage.
Traditionally, the cooling solution used is liquid nitrogen. Nitrogen exists in liquid form between -346 and -320°F. The super-cooled liquid nitrogen is usually applied to the target areas with a long slender surgical instrument called a cryoprobe. Newer technology allows doctors to use argon gas rather than liquid nitrogen to freeze tissue. Argon gas is administered with an extremely thin cryoneedle, allowing the doctor to have excellent control over the freezing process and to minimize damage to tissue surrounding the diseased area.
Cryosurgery is minimally invasive, with a low risk of pain and scarring. The pain associated with cryosurgery can usually be controlled by over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen. In addition, the procedure is relatively low cost. However, cryosurgery is only appropriate for the treatment of relatively small areas of localized disease.
The major drawback of cryosurgery is the risk of damage to surrounding tissue, especially nerve tissue. You can minimize this risk by carefully choosing a qualified, experienced physician.
Last updated: 02-Aug-10