Cryotherapy (or Cryosugery)

Cryotherapy or cryosurgery refers to a treatment in which surface-level skin lesions are treated by freezing them with liquid nitrogen or other freezing agents.

Cryotherapy (or Cryosugery)
FAST FACTS

1. Extremely cold agents like liquid nitrogen can destroy unwanted cells

Dermatologists use freezing agents or "cryogens" like liquid nitrogen to target specific areas of your skin. Liquid nitrogen has a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius or -320 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, unwanted spots can be frozen and removed relatively quickly without cutting into the skin.



Image of liquid nitrogen vapors flowing from a container
Liquid nitrogen vapors flowing from a container


2. Cryosurgery is used for a wide range of skin lesions

Dermatologists typically use cryosurgery for freezing pre-cancerous spots known as actinic keratoses, viral warts, or seborrheic keratoses (or senile warts). When appropriate, cryosurgery may occasionally be used for freezing surface-level basal cell carcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas. It may be used for cosmetic concerns such as skin tags.



3. Cryosurgery has several advantages over routine surgery

Cryosurgery is minimally invasive and does not involve cutting into the skin, unlike routine surgical procedures. It can be used for a wide range of lesions. It is relatively inexpensive, safe, and reliable. However, skin lesion must be properly diagnosed. For example, cryosurgery should not be used to treat melanoma or any undiagnosed pigmented spot that could be melanoma.



4. Cryosurgery is completed quickly and has minimal side-effects

Cryosurgery using liquid nitrogen involves the use of a spray, a probe, or a cotton-tipped applicator. The nitrogen is applied to the skin lesion for a few seconds or longer, depending on the type of lesion and the diameter, and the depth of freeze. The treatment is repeated in some cases, once thawing has been completed. This is known as a ‘double freeze-thaw’.


Image of a cryosurgery spray
Cryosurgery spray

Patients may experience immediate swelling and redness which may be reduced by applying a topical steroid on a single occasion straight after freezing. The treated area usually blisters within a few hours depending on the depth and duration of the freeze. Sometimes the blister contains clear fluid and sometimes it is red or purple because of bleeding. All of these effects are harmless.


Patients are not required to take special care of the treated area. It may be washed once or twice daily and should be generally kept clean.


When the blister dries to a scab, the application of petroleum jelly products is recommended. Picking at the scab is to be avoided. The scab peels off after 5–10 days on the face and 3 weeks on the hand. A sore or scab may persist as long as 3 months on the lower leg because healing in this site is often slow.



5. Cryosurgery is relatively inexpensive and generally covered by insurance

Most insurances cover cryosurgery treatment when it is medically necessary, and not being performed for cosmetic purposes. It is considered a simple surgical procedure and billed to you and the insurance company as such. The specific cost for cryosurgery depends on your insurance plan.