What is cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy is a skin treatment that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells. As the liquid nitrogen is applied, the skin will start to blister and shed off. Most patients need more than one treatment in order to reach all abnormal cells

When is cryotherapy a treatment option for precancerous skin conditions?

Cryotherapy is most effective for small benign lesions, such as actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin condition that can develop into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Your doctor often will recommend cryotherapy for patients who have actinic keratosis as a preventive measure.

Cryotherapy can also be used to treat basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas that affect the top layer of skin only.

Because the recurrence rate is higher with cryotherapy versus surgery, cryotherapy is used more frequently in patients who are not candidates for surgery.

Side effects of cryotherapy for precancerous skin conditions

Although side effects associated with cryotherapy are rare, they can be severe if not recognized and treated. If any of the side effects listed below become severe, call your doctor right away.

  • Pain - you may feel pain as the liquid nitrogen is applied to the affected skin
  • Blistering, swelling or bleeding at the affected site
  • Fainting
  • Hair loss
  • Discoloration of the skin at the affected site
  • Scar (rare)
  • Headache (for lesions on the face)

Advantages of cryotherapy over other skin treatments?

Cryotherapy is less invasive than other skin treatments, which can reduce recovery time, pain and bleeding. The procedure can also be repeated if necessary.

What to expect during cryotherapy?

If you are having cryotherapy to treat actinic keratoses, your Mercy Health doctor may prescribe a medication that reduces the number of lesions that need to be treated and helps reduce the risk of the condition recurring.

During the procedure, you may feel moderate to severe pain, burning or discomfort at the affected site. 

Recovery from cryotherapy?

After the procedure, your doctor will give you instructions on how to care for the wound, including how to apply ointment to the affected skin. It is important not to touch or pick at the scab while it is healing. 

The scab will typically peel off within a few weeks and may leave a small scar.

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