Cryoablation can be used as a cancer treatment with good results.

Cryoablation is a method of freezing tissue, usually tumors, using either a probe (aptly named a cryoprobe) or a catheter. It has a great number of applications and benefits in the treatment of cancer.

Understanding the Terms

Cryotherapy and cryoablation both refer to the same procedure. Another term that can sometimes be a source of confusion is ablation. Ablation is any procedure that aims to destroy or reduce either tumors or blockages. Cryoablation, or cryotherapy, does fit into this category. However, there are also forms of ablation that utilize radiation, or electrical currents.


How It Works

In general, cryoablation utilizes either a cryoprobe or a catheter to administer gas to the unwanted tissue. Endoscopy, CT, MRI, or ultrasound imaging techniques will be used to guide the tube. The gases used are typically either liquid nitrogen or argon, both of which are cold enough, in a gaseous state, to freeze tissue. Once the tissue is frozen, it can either be removed during the procedure, or left for the body to dispose of.

This procedure will have variances in the specifics of how it is carried out that are dependent on the location of the tissue. In the event of prostate cancer, the tools enter through the perineum to penetrate directly into the tumor on the prostate. The gases are released, which triggers a freezing then warming cycle, and the tissue will usually be absorbed by the body once it has thawed. Since the procedure involves such extreme temperatures, ancillary measure must be taken to preserve internal structures other than the tumor. In the aforementioned example, a warming catheter is usually inserted into the urethra in order to protect it from suffering the same freezing fate.

When Is Cryoablation Used?

Cryoablation is most often used as a cancer treatment because of the precision that it offers. However, not everyone is a candidate for this type of therapy. Practice has shown that it is most effective with smaller tumors. Additionally, if the cancer has metastasized, this would not likely be a viable treatment option. The exception to that being that it may still be used to ease symptoms of a particular tumor. It can also be used for external tumors, or skin abnormalities.

The Benefits

Compared to many other cancer treatments, this therapy is minimally invasive. That makes cryoablation an excellent option for people who aren’t well enough for surgical procedures or radiation. This is most often performed on an outpatient basis because there is fair less risk involved. Of course, that means less hospital time, and more cost efficiency.

The Risks

Again, the risks for this type of therapy are relatively low. However, any medical procedure does come with some risk. For cryoablation, the risks are related to where the freeze occurs. This is because there is a chance that unintended structures can be frozen. If the gas is applied near the reproductive structures, there is a risk of lowered fertility rates. In addition, there is the usual risk of infection and soreness.