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Woman's hands to represent cryosurgery

Cryosurgery - what it is, how it works, and treatments near you

Over time skin can experience sun damage or develop new moles or lesions. Although most are generally harmless, it’s essential to check with a health professional, who may recommend cryosurgery as a treatment option.

Cryosurgery can help treat skin lesions and small tumours using freezing agents – with a high rate of success.

But what is it, what else can it treat, and is it right for you?

Fast facts

  • Best results

    1 to 4 sessions

  • Duration of results

    Permanent

  • Back to work

    Next day

  • Full recovery time

    1 to 2 weeks

  • Price range

    370 SAR

  • Treatment duration

    2 to 5 minutes

  • Comfort

    Local anaesthetic

  • Treatment type

    Non-invasive

What is cryosurgery?

Cryosurgery literally means ‘cold therapy’ and is a method used to treat a variety of skin conditions, from benign and superficial moles to abnormal tissues, including potentially cancerous ones.

An extremely cold solution, usually liquid nitrogen, freezes an area to a temperature between -210 and -195.5C, destroying the tissue in question. Argon and carbon dioxide can also be used.

Thanks to recent advancements, cryosurgery practitioners can use a device called a cryoprobe to treat internal tumours in a similar way to skin lesions.

Close-up of Arab woman touching her face to represent cryosurgery

How does cryosurgery work?

Skin lesions, moles and other skin-related concerns are best checked rather than left. If you notice something that concerns you, be sure to speak to your doctor.

And if you are referred for – or decide to have – cryosurgery, here’s what you can expect.

Before the surgery

Preparation for your appointment usually depends on the specific type of treatment you’re seeking.

  • To tackle skin lesions or abnormal surface tissues, you won’t typically need to prepare in any way, or arrange recovery time.
  • Treatment for internal concerns requires some preparation which will be explained to you in advance. You’ll be asked if you have allergies to anaesthesia or are currently taking any medication. Like traditional surgeries, you will be asked to fast for at least 12 hours ahead of your procedure.
  • It’s important not to drive while recovering from the effects of anaesthesia, so arrange transport home or ask a family member or friend to be there with you.

During the procedure

Surface-level lesions

A numbing agent will be applied before your practitioner applies the liquid nitrogen, via cotton swab or spray, onto your skin to tackle the problem.

Internal

Your cryosurgery practitioner will use a scope or probe to directly treat the affected area. After you are put under general anaesthesia, a small incision is made, and the internal tumour is treated before being stitched up.

In some cases, when cryosurgery is used to treat abnormal cell changes in the cervix, for instance, a local anaesthetic is used.

Aftercare

For most types of skin-related cryosurgeries, you should be able to go home the same day.

Tumours frozen inside the body will be absorbed, while those on the skin will form a scab that will fall off as the damaged skin heals.

Arab woman wearing a hijab and smiling to represent how does cryosurgery work

Cryosurgery side-effects, results – and finding a procedure

Does it hurt?

Treatments for surface-level skin matters can cause some discomfort. However, your practitioner will often choose to use a numbing agent, such as a local anaesthetic, to make the procedure as comfortable as possible. Cryosurgery to treat abnormal cervical cells can cause cramping post-procedure, not unlike period cramps.

What are the side-effects?

There are some potential side-effects from cryosurgery, but these are considered to be generally low risk.

They include:

  • Infection if the area is not kept clean.
  • Blisters from the cold temperature.
  • Numbed sensation of the treated area.
  • Whitened skin of the treated area.

How effective are the results?

For treatments of skin lesions like actinic keratoses, which are dry patches of skin caused by sun damage, the reported success rates are between 86 and 99 per cent. When it comes to treating tumours, the most effective results are usually seen with smaller growths – so it is a good idea to get your skin checked out early, if possible.

How do I find cryosurgery options near me?

Ensure the practitioner you use is experienced and competent in the procedure. Use our clinic locator tool to find treatments available near you and take time to read online reviews.

Is it safe?

Cryosurgery procedures are generally safe but seek out an experienced clinician for the best success rates, and assurance. It can also be repeated safely and used with other cancer treatments.

Cryosurgery is also considered to be safe for pregnant women – but your practitioner will assess your medical needs before conducting the treatment.

Alternatives

For cancerous tumours, the alternatives will often be surgery, radiation, or a combination of the two.

In the case of skin lesions, rapidly evaporating hydrocarbons such as trifluoroethane, pentafluoroethane, and tetrafluoroethane, can be used as treatments. These are compressed gases which are sprayed in liquid form over the affected area, producing temperatures as low as −70C.

Cryosurgery facts

  • The use of cold solutions as cryotherapies was first practiced in ancient Egypt. As early as 2500 BC, it was discovered that low temperatures aided in the treatment of skin injuries and inflammation.
  • Cryosurgery as we know it today began to take shape in 1889, when it was used for skin lesions and warts by Campbell White, a New York dermatologist.
  • Liquid nitrogen became more readily available after the Second World War, when it gained appreciation for its successful treatment of deep-seated lesions, including brain lesions.

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