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What is cryosurgery?

Cryosurgery is the use of extremely cold temperatures to freeze and destroy abnormal tissues. This procedure is used to treat pre-cancerous tumors, and to control bleeding. It often is used to remove abnormal tissue from the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal).

How is cryosurgery done?

Cryosurgery is an office procedure done while the patient is awake. During the procedure, the vaginal canal is held open with a speculum so that the cervix can be seen. The cryo probe is inserted into the vagina and placed firmly on the surface of the cervix, covering the abnormal tissue. Compressed gaseous nitrogen (temperature approximately -50 degrees Celsius) flows through the instrument, making the metal cold enough to freeze and destroy the tissue.

Although some slight cramping may occur, cryosurgery is relatively painless and produces very little scarring. An “ice ball” forms on the cervix, killing the superficial abnormal cells. For optimal treatment, the freezing is done for three minutes. The cervix is allowed to thaw, then the freezing is repeated for an additional three minutes.

What happens after cryosurgery?

Almost all normal activities can be resumed immediately after surgery. Avoidance of sexual intercourse, as well as douching, is recommended for 5-6 weeks. For 3-4 weeks after the surgery, there will be a lot of watery discharge caused by the shedding of the treated cervical tissue. Sometimes a woman will feel light-headed immediately following the procedure. If this happens, lying down flat on the examination table will prevent fainting and this sensation will go away within a few minutes.

A repeat Pap smear or biopsy should be done to ensure that the procedure was successful in removing the abnormal tissue in 12-16 weeks after the cryotherapy.

What are the risks of cryosurgery?

The following complications are uncommon but do occur:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Cervical stenosis (scarring), which may make it more difficult to get pregnant, or cause increased cramping with menstrual periods