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Cryosurgery is also sometimes called cryotherapy or cryoablation. It is a prostate cancer treatment that is used to kill cancer cells. During this procedure, the prostate gland tissues are frozen (don’t worry, you won’t feel anything). Although cryosurgery has been used regularly to treat skin cancer, it is still relatively new as far as prostate cancer treatments are concerned. More research is needed on the possible long-term effects and outcomes of cryosurgery for prostate cancer.
The cryosurgery procedure for prostate cancer
To perform cryosurgery, the doctor will insert several hollow needles between the anus and scrotum. The needles will travel into the prostate gland, with the doctor using transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) to guide them. Extremely cold argon gas is then passed through the needles and into the tissue.
The prostate gland will be reduced to a temperature of less than minus 40 degrees Celsius. The doctor will carefully monitor the area with the ultrasound to ensure the safe formation of the ice ball that will kill the cancer cells. After this occurs, the prostate is warmed with helium gas.
Cryosurgery for prostate cancer is considered to be minimally invasive because there are no incisions involved. When cryosurgery was first developed decades ago, doctors used liquid nitrogen to freeze the prostate. This older technique was associated with much higher risks. These days, technology has advanced and safeguards are in place, such as the use of warm saltwater circulating in nearby areas to protect tissues outside the prostate gland.
Are you a cryosurgery candidate?
Not all men with prostate cancer are good candidates for cryosurgery. Ideally, your prostate gland will be 40 grams or less and the cancer will be localized to the prostate gland (meaning that it hasn’t spread, or metastasized). Those who have previously had other prostate surgery may wish to consider other treatment options. Patients may choose to use cryosurgery as the primary treatment option for early stage cancer, or they may choose to use it if the cancer returns following radiation therapy or another cancer treatment.
Possible risks and side effects of cryosurgery for prostate cancer
As with any surgical procedure, there are some possible risks and side effects involved. Talk to your doctor and make sure that you fully understand the potential complications before you undergo the procedure. It is rare for cryosurgery to severely damage nearby tissues outside the prostate gland. However, men have reported blood in the urine, difficult or painful urination, frequent urination, and pain or swelling of the scrotum and penis. These urinary symptoms tend to resolve over time.
Sexual dysfunction, impotence, and urinary incontinence can also occur. Erectile dysfunction is more common after cryosurgery than after a radical prostatectomy. Urinary incontinence is more likely to occur if the patient undergoes cryosurgery after having radiation therapy.
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.