What is Cryosurgery?
Cryosurgery (also called cryotherapy) is the use of extreme cold to destroy
Traditionally, it has been used to treat external tumors, such as those on the
skin, but recently some physicians have begun using it as a treatment for tumors
that occur inside the body. Cryosurgery for internal tumors is increasing as a
result of developments in technology over the past several years.
For external tumors, liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees Celsius, -320.8 degrees
Fahrenheit) is applied directly to the cancer cells with a cotton swab or
spraying device. For internal tumors, liquid nitrogen is circulated through an
instrument called a cryoprobe, which is placed in contact with the tumor. To
guide the cryoprobe and to monitor the freezing of the cells, the physician uses
ultrasound (computerized moving pictures of the body generated by high-frequency
sound waves). By using ultrasound, physicians hope to spare nearby healthy
Cryosurgery often involves a cycle of treatments in which the tumor is frozen,
allowed to thaw, and then refrozen.
How is Cryosurgery used in prostate cancer
Cryosurgery is being evaluated in the treatment of a number of cancers,
including prostate cancer. Cryosurgery may be used to treat men with early-stage
cancer that is confined to the prostate gland, particularly when standard
treatments such as surgery and radiation are unsuccessful or cannot be used. For
men in good physical condition with cancer limited to the prostate, however, the
standard treatments of prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) or
radiation therapy are usually considered better options. Cryosurgery is not
considered an effective treatment for prostate cancer that has spread outside
the gland, or to distant parts of the body.
It is important to point out that although cryosurgery may be considered an
alternative to surgery or radiation therapy in a limited number of cases, its
long-term effectiveness has not been demonstrated conclusively.
For more information about cryosurgery, its application, and side effects,
please read the booklet: Questions and Answers About Cryosurgery in Cancer
Treatment from the National Cancer Institute.
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