What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also called cryosurgery, uses extreme cold to freeze and kill cancer cells. It's also used to control pain and control bleeding. All cells, including cancer cells, contain water. When cryotherapy freezes the cells, the water turns to ice crystals. These ice crystals, along with the cold itself, destroy the cancer cells.
Cryotherapy is used to regularly treat certain cancers and other lesions. For example, dermatologists apply liquid nitrogen directly to the skin to kill certain early-stage skin cancers and other skin lesions that could potentially turn into cancer (called pre-cancerous lesions). Cryotherapy also is used to treat some forms of cervical, prostate, and bone cancer.
When cryotherapy is used to treat cancers in the body, one or more small needles, called cryoprobes, deliver either liquid nitrogen or argon gas directly to the cancer tissue. Ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to put the cryoprobes in exactly the right place. People who have cryotherapy usually get a local anesthetic in the area where the cryoprobes will be inserted as well as a mild sedative.
How is cryotherapy used to treat breast cancer?
Right now, cryotherapy is an experimental treatment for breast cancer. Scientists are studying whether cryotherapy might be a good alternative to breast cancer surgery, as well as the types of breast cancer cryotherapy would treat most effectively. If you're interested in being part of a study on cryotherapy for breast cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute's clinical trials search page and search for a breast cancer treatment trial on cryotherapy or cryosurgery.