What is cryosurgery?

In cryosurgery, liquid nitrogen is used to remove skin growths, fade age spots and treat early stage basal and squamous cell carcinomas. The doctor will apply frozen nitrogen using either a cotton swab or a spray device. The goal is to freeze the skin quickly and then allow it to slowly thaw to cause maximum destruction to targeted skin cells. In some cases, additional applications may be needed. When treating skin cancer, the doctor may insert a small needle containing a thermometer into the treatment area to ensure the treated area has been sufficiently cooled.

Who is not a candidate for cryosurgery?

The procedure is well tolerated by most patients.

Is cryosurgery painful?

Patients may experience a mild burning sensation during treatment. Local anesthesia usually is not required.

What should first be done before considering cryosurgery?

The doctor will review the patient’s medical history and examine the condition to be treated. Careful consideration is give to skin cancers to make sure they have no spread beyond the superficial layer of the skin. No extensive preparation is necessary for cryosurgery. The treatment area must be clean and dry, but it is not necessary to be sterile.

When is cryosurgery appropriate?

Cryosurgery can be used to treat age spots, skin growths (warts and skins tags) and early stage basal and squamous cell carcinomas.

What can I expect after having had cryosurgery?

Redness, swelling and the formation of a blister can be expected at the treatment site. An over-the-counter pain reliever can be used to control pain. Patients will be directed to wash the site daily while fluid continues to ooze from the wound, usually for five to 14 days, until a dry crust forms. The crust will eventually fall off by itself. Healing time for head and neck procedures is two to six weeks; longer for other parts of the body.

Possible risks

  • Swelling
  • Scarring
  • Loss of sensation in treatment area for 12 to 18 months
  • Loss of pigmentation
  • Loss of hair in treatment area
  • Bleeding and blisters
  • Healing problems