For patients in the early stages of cancer, a urologist may recommend cryoablation as a treatment option.
Cryoablation is a procedure that involves the use of cold temperatures to freeze and kill cancerous cells. It’s more likely to be an effective way to treat cancer when the disease is limited to a single area.
- Also referred to as cryosurgery or cryotherapy, the treatment may also be used to ease symptoms and relieve pain in some instances when cancer has spread.
- Other times, it may benefit patients with recurrent cancer not responding well to radiation therapy.
Urological Cancers Treated with Cryoablation
One of the more common uses for cryoablation for conditions affecting the urinary system is to treat patients with prostate cancer. The procedure may also be recommended for localized kidney and cervical cancer. Noncancerous and precancerous conditions of the cervix are sometimes treated before abnormal cells become cancerous. Cryosurgery is also being evaluated for use on patients with colon cancer
How It Works
Cryoablation is performed with a small probe or needle. The preferred instrument is then inserted into the affected gland or structure. It’s usually done with minimally invasive techniques involving smaller incisions to access the location that needs to be treated. For instance, the prostate gland would be reached with an incision between the scrotum and anus. Depending on the specific area being treated, a catheter may be used to deliver a warm saline solution to protect nearby tissues from extremely cold temperatures.
During the procedure, an ultrasound is used to provide visual guidance for the urologist. The affected area is treated with liquid nitrogen, argon gas, or a similar freezing liquid. The freezing liquid is delivered via the inserted probe. The application of freezing cold liquid destroys tissues that are cancerous. Using image guidance also protects nearby healthy tissues.
What Cryoablation Does to Cancer Cells
Living tissue isn’t able to survive when exposed to extreme cold. The freezing liquid used with cryoablation treatment rapidly removes heat from the affected tissues. Doing so causes ice crystals or balls to form. This swelling process ruptures cell membranes. The result is widespread damage that causes the cell to die.
Once the cancerous cells are no longer functional, the body sends white blood cells to the treated area to “clean up” the dead cancer cells. There’s research suggesting that this boost in immune system activity could also help destroy any cancer cells that remain in the area.
Benefits for Patients
One of the most notable advantages of cryoablation is that the procedure can be safely repeated for patients not able to have surgery to fully remove cancerous structures and tissues. With early stage urological cancers, it can be a less-invasive alternative to surgery. In some instances, an epidural may be used in place of general anesthesia to further improve comfort during the procedure without the risks associated with being sedated. Some patients also benefit from:
- Faster recovery time
- Less swelling in the treated area
- Fewer issues with blood loss or infection
There are potential side effects of cryosurgery, such as a loss of sensation due to nerve damage and swelling, However, they usually aren’t as severe as potential side effects associated with radiation therapy and certain surgical procedures. If cryoablation is successful, follow-up monitoring is usually recommended to detect any possible recurrences.