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 of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal).

How is cryosurgery done?

The cold is introduced through a probe, which has liquid nitrogen circulating through it. To destroy diseased tissue, the tissue is cooled to below -20 degrees Celsius. Other procedures that control pain or bleeding are cooled to a lesser degree to prevent tissue damage.

What happens during cryosurgery?

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, and then the freezing is repeated for an additional three minutes.

What happens after cryosurgery?

Repeat Pap smear or a biopsy should be done to ensure that the procedure was successful in killing abnormal tissue.

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

What are the risks of cryosurgery?

Risks of surgery are rare, but can include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Cervical stenosis (with less than 1% risk), which may make it more difficult to get pregnant, or cause increased cramping with menstrual periods

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/18/2014...#9120