What is cryosurgery?

Cryosurgery is a procedure for destroying abnormal body tissues (sometimes referred to as lesions) by exposure to very cold temperatures.

When is it used?

Cryosurgery is used to treat skin lesions such as freckles (for cosmetic reasons), hemorrhoids, warts, and some skin cancers.

It is also used to treat skin changes caused by the genital wart virus, cervicitis, and precancerous changes on the surface of a woman’s cervix. These precancerous abnormalities are usually found with a Pap test. The lesions are also called CIN, or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia.

Cryosurgery is not done on the cervix if you are having your menstrual period or if you are pregnant. It also may not be used to treat large abnormal areas.

How do I prepare for cryosurgery?

Most likely you will not have to do anything to prepare for the procedure. It is a simple procedure, and it is done in a short time in your healthcare provider’s office.

Find someone to give you a ride home after the procedure.

What happens during the procedure?

Your healthcare provider will use a probelike tool to treat the affected areas. A very cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, pumped through the probe makes the tip of the probe very cold.

Your provider will touch the tip of the probe to your skin or cervix. Depending on the area being treated, you may feel a burning or cramping sensation while the area freezes and then thaws. Although the procedure may cause some discomfort, an anesthetic is rarely needed.

How long your provider keeps the probe touching the skin or cervix depends on the size and type of the lesion and the type of freezing substance used. For some abnormal tissue, such as genital warts, the procedure works best if the tissue is frozen quickly, allowed to thaw for a few minutes, and then frozen again.

What happens after the procedure?

For problems such as warts, a small blister will form. The blister will later become a scab or a crust.

If you have cervical cryosurgery, you will be asked to stay in your healthcare provider’s office for at least 20 to 30 minutes after the procedure. Although it is rare, you may become dizzy or faint more than 30 minutes after the procedure, so you should have someone give you a ride home.

You may have mild abdominal cramping during and after cervical cryosurgery. You may also have a watery or slightly bloody discharge from the vagina after the procedure. The discharge may last 4 weeks. You should not use tampons or douche for 4 weeks after the surgery, while you are healing. You should also avoid sexual intercourse for 4 weeks.

Some abnormal tissues may need to be treated more than once. Your healthcare provider will tell you how often you need to be checked for recurrence or to have another treatment. You will need a follow-up visit to check healing and to see if any abnormal tissue remains.

If you have cervical cryosurgery because you had an abnormal Pap test, your healthcare provider will tell when you should have your next Pap test.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for checking back for problems, questions, and your next visit.

What are the benefits of this procedure?

Cryosurgery is very effective and does not cost as much as other treatments. It can be done in your healthcare provider’s office, and anesthesia is not necessary.

What are the risks associated with procedure?

There are usually no complications after this procedure. However, if you are treated for a cervical lesion, during or after cryosurgery you may experience:

  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • hot flashes
  • cramping in your lower abdomen
  • bleeding

If you are being treated for a skin lesion:

  • The treated area may be discolored.
  • Hair and sweat glands in the treated area may be damaged. As a result you may lose hair in the treated area and not be able to sweat in that area. You may get a cyst in the area of the sweat gland.
  • The area may have some scarring.

How can I help take care of myself?

Care for the wounded area according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Call your provider if:

  • The treated area is bleeding or not healing.
  • The lesions come back.
  • The treated area has signs of infection (redness, tenderness, swelling, or discharge).
  • After cervical cryosurgery you have abdominal cramps for more than 24 hours.
  • After cervical cryosurgery you have a foul-smelling vaginal discharge for longer than your provider told you to expect, or the discharge becomes yellow or gray in color.
  • You have vaginal bleeding that lasts longer than 1 hour.

Adult Advisor 2011.1 Index

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