Definition and Overview

Also referred to as cryosurgery or cryotherapy, cryoablation is a minimally invasive process of removing or damaging the diseased tissues by using an extremely cold temperature.

It uses a wand-like device, which is placed near the skin or directly into the affected site, which can be a part of the internal organ. This device is then connected to a machine that delivers gas such as argon or nitrogen to facilitate the freezing process.

The concept of cryoablation has been around for at least a century. Modern advancements now allow it to be carried out with the least possible risks on the patients.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Cryoablation is used in many ways in the health care setting:

  • Skincare – The technique can assist in the removal of skin tags, freckles, and nodules. It can also be a preventive measure against skin cancer.

  • Cancer – Cryoablation has been proven to be successful in oncology, especially in the treatment of cervical, prostate, and retinoblastoma among children. It becomes an option when a resection of the affected organ cannot be carried out due to the severity of the disease or the location of the tumors.

  • Heart problem – The same technique is also now being used for the treatment of arrhythmia, a heart condition characterized by irregular heartbeat due to a defective electrical activity. The freezing cold temperature can be utilized to “freeze” the pathways that are causing the problem.

The procedure itself may take a few minutes to hours to complete, depending on the affected area. It’s expected that the frozen tissue can be safely removed or ablated right after.

How Does the Procedure Work?

First, the doctor needs to assess if you’re an ideal candidate for cryoablation. It is often recommended if standard surgery cannot be performed.

The procedure can be carried out in the hospital or a clinic. Usually, medications such as antibiotics are provided to reduce the risk of infection and minimize discomfort.

There are two general ways to perform cryoablation. One, a minor incision is made and then the probe is inserted into the body. In this case, cryoablation is done alongside laparoscopic surgery. A laparoscope is a probe that provides live images of the organs, guiding the surgeon.

The other method is to use imaging equipment such as a CT scan or MRI scan to determine where the focused tissues or masses are. Sometimes a contrast dye that causes tumor reaction is delivered into the body through an IV.

A radiologist then performs the procedure, transmitting gas to freeze the tissue or the mass. To ensure that the site is completely frozen, the process is repeated multiple times or several applicators are used. Using surgical instruments, the frozen tissue or mass is then removed.

If the problem affects only the upper surface of the skin, the gas is applied directly using a spray device or swab.

Possible Risks and Complications

Overall, cryoablation is a safe procedure. It is minimally invasive, promotes faster clotting, and may not require any incision. Nevertheless, there are still possible risks including freezing healthy tissues, bleeding, and infection.

References:

  • Habif TP. Dermatologic surgical procedures. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 27.

  • Habif TP. Warts, herpes simplex, and other viral infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 12.

  • Beard JM, Osborn J. Common office procedures. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 28.

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