What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also called cryoablation or cryosurgery, uses freezing gas to destroy cancer cells in the prostate.
Who should consider cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is an option for men with localized or locally advanced prostate cancer, where the tumor has only extended out of one side of the prostate (T3a). It may be used as an alternative to surgery, particularly for men who do not qualify for surgery for various reasons. Use of cryotherapy is approved for all grades of localized prostate cancer, from low and intermediate risk to high risk.
This treatment can be used alongside other standard treatments for localized prostate cancer. Cryotherapy is also an option for men who experience a recurrence following radiation therapy (internal or external).
There is some evidence that cryotherapy may be a cheaper option that other treatments for localized prostate cancer.
How does cryotherapy work?
Ultrasound is used to guide special needles, called cryoprobes, into the prostate. Argon gas is placed in the needles and creates an “ice ball” that kills cells in the area near the frozen probe. Once the prostate has been frozen and the procedure completed the probes are removed from the body.
Cryotherapy destroys any tissue that it touches, both cancerous and healthy. Close monitoring lowers the risk of damaging nearby healthy tissue. To preserve the urethra, a warming catheter is used to keep the urethra warm during the procedure and for a brief time after the last freezing. The urethra is the tube that takes urine from your bladder to outside the body.
This is usually a one-time procedure done in a few hours in a specialist’s office, under either spinal or general anesthesia.
What are the side effects of cryotherapy?
Most men have blood in their urine for a day or two after the procedure, as well as soreness in the area where the needles were placed. Other side effects may include loss of urinary control, injury to the rectum and loss of sexual function. Freezing damages nerves near the prostate and causes impotence in up to four out of five men who have cryosurgery. Erectile dysfunction is more common after cryosurgery than after radical prostatectomy.
The freezing may also affect the bladder and intestines, which can lead to pain, burning sensations, and the need to empty the bladder and bowels often. Most men recover normal bowel and bladder function over time.
The side effects from cryosurgery tend to be worse when treatment is done in men who already had radiation therapy, as opposed to men who have it as the first form of treatment.
Where can I learn more?
To learn more about cryotherapy, click here to view a video of doctors, patients and their spouses. The video is provided by Healthtronics and is not affiliated with ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer. This video is provided as an educational resource not an endorsement of treatment.
To learn more about localized disease, go to our Localized Cancer section.