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What is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy, also called cryosurgery, cryoablation or targeted cryoablation therapy, refers to the application of extreme cold to destroy diseased tissue, including cancer cells. It can be used to help treat different types of cancer (prostate, liver, cervical, etc.), especially if surgery is not an option.


How is Cryotherapy Performed?

A cryoprobe is inserted through an incision, this probe uses nitrogen or argon to apply cold to the affected area. Imaging technology (such as ultrasound or CT) is utilized to help guide the physician, and avoid damaging healthy tissue.


How does the procedure work?

Living tissue, healthy or diseased, cannot withstand extremely cold conditions and dies from:

  • Ice within the cell. At approximately -40°C (-40°F) or less, intracellular lethal-ice crystals begin to form that will tear apart almost any cell.
  • Bursting from swelling or shrinking. If ice forms only outside the cell, osmosis -- the movement of a solution through the membrane of a cell—causes the cell to shrink as it gives up water to replace the water that has turned to ice. Then, as the area thaws, water rushes into the shrunken cell and causes it to burst. For this reason, cryotherapy usually consists of a series of steps in which tumors are repeatedly frozen and thawed.
  • Loss of blood supply. Cells die when their blood supply is choked off by ice forming within small tumor vessels, causing clotting. Since the average blood-clotting time is approximately 10 minutes, the extreme cold is maintained for at least 10 minutes unless tumor temperatures indicate that lethal-ice temperatures have been reached.

Once the cells are destroyed, components of the immune system -- primarily the white blood cells -- clear out the dead tissue. There is some evidence to suggest that this procedure also stimulates the immune system to attack remaining cancer cells.

Cryotherapy is the freezing of abnormal tissue in order to destroy it. The instrument employed is a cryoprobe, which uses nitrogen or argon to apply cold to the affected area. Imaging technology is utilized to avoid damaging healthy tissue. Cryotherapy can be used to help treat different types of cancer, especially if surgery is not an option.


Adapted from

Abott Northwestern Hospital
800 East 28th Street,
Minneapolis, MN 55407
North Memorial Medical Center
3300 Oakdale Avenue North,
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
2301 Connecticut Avenue South,
Sartell, MN 56377
Office: 320-229-1500
Toll Free: 1-888-414-PAIN
Fax: 320-229-1505