Disclaimer: Consult with a doctor before deciding on a treatment plan for cancer or any other disease.

Quick Summary

Cyroablation uses extremely cold temperatures to freeze tumors. The cold temperatures damage the cancer cells. Needles are used to inject the tumor itself or surrounding areas with gases that cause the tumor to freeze. This treatment does not remove tumors (which could cause them to metastasize), but rather seeks to damage and kill the cells using cold temperatures. Anesthesia or a sedative is used during the treatment.


Detailed Information

Cryoablation, also known as cryosurgery, cryosurgical ablation, or cryotherapy, is a cancer treatment technique that works by using extremely cold temperatures to freeze tumors. The term “cryo” describes extreme cold, while “ablation” indicates the removal, destruction, or damage of cancer cells. [1] The cryo probe used during cryoablation sends liquid nitrogen, argon gas, or carbon dioxide into or around the tumor to freeze and kill cancer cells. This treatment is an alternative to cancer surgery. [2][4] 



Cryoablation is a relatively new technology that has become a slightly more mainstream treatment method for cancer. Because it’s a new technology, Americans and other westerners may be drawn to it due to an underlying belief that “newer is better.” The treatment doesn’t remove the cancer (which can cause metastases), but it has other side effects that should be considered before patients undergo the treatment.


In the United States (and other western countries), new technology is constantly being added to the arsenal of possibilities that healthcare providers can use to treat patients. In some cases, these new technologies result in increased success in treating or taking care of patients with health issues; for example, new technology has been proven to increase life expectancy for heart attack patients by 1 year, and about 70% of survival improvement in these patients is attributed to this new technology. In many other cases, technology doesn’t have these successful results [7].


The majority of new technologies are released to the public with little knowledge of how they’ll work and what the side effects will be. On the Cancer Research UK site, it is stated that individuals may receive cryoablation as part of a clinical trial, suggesting that it has not yet been fully researched [2][7].


Safety and Effectiveness

Cryoablation is said to be a safe treatment due to its noninvasive nature and its status as a targeted, or “local,” treatment that doesn’t harm surrounding tissue. After the treatment, the frozen (and dead) cancer cells are naturally processed by the body’s immune system over a period of a few weeks. [2]


Because cryoablation is a localized treatment for cancer, it will not treat other cancers in the body other than those it is targeting at the time of treatment. For example, if a patient’s cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body, the cryoablation treatment will have to focus on each individual point where there is cancer. [2]


The side effects and risks of cryoablation treatment differ depending on the cancer being treated, but most often the side effects include:


  • Pain/discomfort in the treated area of the body; this generally subsides a few days after treatment, although in some cases it may last longer depending on the area treated and the type of cancer.


  • Bleeding from the treatment area may occur. When surgeons administer cryotherapy, they must make small cuts and incisions to reach the cancer-infected area. Heavy bleeding tends to specifically occurs after treatment of liver tumors.


  • Healthy damaged/frozen tissue close to the treatment area; this is avoided as much as possible, but yet it is still a possibility of cryotherapy treatment.


  • Infections may occur after cryotherapy; the signs of these infections show up as unusual drainage, a fever, or chills.


  • During treatment specifically of liver tumors, the patient’s overall body temperature may get lower [2][4].


According to the Canadian Cancer Society’s website, these side effects generally go away soon after treatment, but in some cases they may become long-term or permanent [4].


Cryoablation doesn’t remove tumors (doing so can cause metastases to other locations in the body), but it does use needles in the treatment to release cold gases into or around the tumor. However, taking a sample of tissue for testing often results in cancer metastases due to the disturbance of tissue around the cancer and the resulting possibility that cancer cells may be released into the blood stream or lymphatic system, at which point cancer cells are given an opportunity to start growing in a new location. Because cryoablation is disturbing the tissues of the cancer growth itself as well as surrounding tissues, the possibility for metastasis with this treatment does exist [6].


Cryotherapy requires the use of anesthesia or a sedative, which although these don’t normally cause any long-term adverse effects, some older adults may have difficult recovering their brain function after being deep under anesthesia. According to an article in Scientific American, 15% of a group of 459 patients who had received general anesthesia demonstrated poor word-recall on specially designed tests 3 months after surgery. Cryotherapy doesn’t always use general anesthesia, but in some cases the amount of anesthesia or sedative used may increase depending on the patient’s particular type of cancer [3].


For prostate cancer patients, certain negative long-term effects may occur as a result of cryoablation. Impotence, incontinence, and swelling are possible effects of cryoablation treatment for prostate cancer; because there’s a chance that nerves and tissue surrounding the site of the cancer may be damaged, men who have had cryoablation for this cancer may experience issues with controlling erections, an inability to urinate or a sudden need to do so, and reduced bowel function. Some men have experienced swelling of the scrotum, scarring, and moderate pelvic pain [5].


How Cryoablation is Administered

Cryoablation is administered by the insertion of a hollow probe/catheter similar to a needle (called a “cryo probe”) through the skin. It may also be administered using a scope to located the tumor. To ensure that the probe reaches its destination, an endoscopy, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan is used. After the needle is in place, cold liquid nitrogen or argon gas are circulated through the tube to the tumor site, where ice crystals then form around the tumor to freeze it.


In some cases, two or more cryo probes are used in order to target different areas of the cancer or different tumor sites.


The cryo probe requires only that a small incision is made in the skin, thus avoiding surgical removal of the tumor. Some clinics/doctors may recommend cryoablation if the patient isn’t able to tolerate surgery (due to age or a medical condition) or if the patient’s cancer is inoperable or unresponsive to the other conventional cancer treatments [1]. The location of the incision depends on where the cancer is located. Some cancers, such as lung cancer, require that a scope is used to administer cryotherapy [2].


During recovery, patients’ blood pressure, pulse, and wounds that may have developed on the skin (if there are any) will be checked regularly.


Other Important Information

Cryoablation is readily available at many conventional treatment centers in the United States, Canada, and abroad.


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[1] Oasis of Hope (2015). Cryo-ablation cancer therapy at Oasis of Hope. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: http://www.oasisofhope.com/cancer-treatments-therapies/cryo-ablation/


[2] Cancer Research UK (n.d). Cryotherapy. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/other/cryotherapy


[3] Storrs, Carina (2014). The Hidden Dangers of Going Under. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hidden-dangers-of-going-under/


[4] Canadian Cancer Society (2018). Cryosurgery. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/diagnosis-and-treatment/tests-and-procedures/cryosurgery/?region=on


[5] Cancer Defeated (n.d). 7 Things You Should Know BEFORE A Doctor Freezes Your Prostate! Retrieved May 3, 2018 from:  https://www.cancerdefeated.com/newsletters/7-Things-You-Should-Know-BEFORE-A-Doctor-Freezes-Your-Prostate.html


[6] Tohme, Samer; Simmons, Richard L.; Tsung, Allan (2017). Surgery for Cancer: A Trigger for Metastases. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/canres/77/7/1548.full.pdf


[7] Tan, LTH; Ong, KL (2002). The Impact of Medical Technology on Healthcare Today. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/102490790200900410