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Cryotherapy

Definition

Cryotherapy is a method of superfreezing tissue in order to destroy it. This article discusses cryotherapy of the skin.

Alternative Names

Cryosurgery - skin

Description

Cryotherapy is done using a cotton swab that has been dipped into liquid nitrogen or a probe that has liquid nitrogen flowing through it.

The procedure is done in the doctor's office. It usually takes less than a minute.

The freezing may cause some discomfort. Your health care provider may apply a numbing medicine to the area first.

Indications

Cryotherapy or cryosurgery may be used to:

  • Remove warts
  • Destroy precancerous skin lesions (actinic keratoses or solar keratoses)

Rarely, cryotherapy may be used to treat some skin cancers. However, skin that is destroyed during cryotherapy cannot be examined under a microscope. A skin biopsy is needed if your health care provider wants to check the lesion for signs of cancer.

Risks

Cryotherapy risks include:

  • Blisters and ulcers, leading to pain and infection
  • Scarring, especially if the freezing was prolonged or deeper areas of the skin were affected
  • Changes in skin color (skin turns white)

Expectations after surgery

Cryotherapy works well for many patients. Some skin lesions, especially warts, may need to be treated more than once.

Convalescence

The treated area may look red afterwards. A blister will often form within a few hours. It may appear clear or have a red or purple color.

You may have a little pain for up to 3 days.

Most of the time, no special care is needed during healing. The area should be washed gently once or twice a day and kept clean. A bandage or dressing should only be needed if the area rubs against clothes or may be easily injured.

A scab forms and will usually peel away within 1 to 3 weeks, depending on the area treated.

Call your health care provide if:

  • There are signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or drainage
  • The skin lesion does not appear to be gone after it has healed

References

Habif TP. Dermatologic surgical procedures. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 27.

Ibrahim SF, Brown MD. Actinic keratoses. In: Lebwohl M, ed. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

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


Review Date: 9/14/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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