What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a treatment indicated to eliminate certain superficial skin lesions. It is a method used to freeze the tissue in order to destroy it.
It is not a painful treatment, but it produces a stinging and burning sensation, so it may sometimes require the administration of local anesthesia when applied to very sensitive areas.
Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze skin lesions.
Why is it performed?
Cryotherapy can be used to remove warts and to destroy precancerous skin lesions. Some of the skin lesions for which this therapy is most indicated and most effective are:
- Actinic keratomas: these are crusted lesions that do not heal normally. They are mainly caused by sun exposure and should be monitored and treated because they can be a prelude to carcinoma.
- Viral papillomas: warts caused by viral infections, such as the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
- Warts: Vulgar warts are the most common, and appear most frequently in childhood. They usually appear on the hands and extremities, although they can occur anywhere on the body.
- Sunspots: even small, superficial sunspots can be treated with cryotherapy. After the session, a crust will form and fall off within 24 hours and another crust will fall off after a few weeks.
What does it consist of?
This technique is based on the application of extreme cold, normally liquid nitrogen (-196ºC) by means of a spray system. This nitrogen, administered on the specific lesion, causes the freezing and destruction of the affected cells without damaging the healthy tissue surrounding the lesion. The process usually takes one to two minutes.
A few hours after freezing the lesion a blister usually forms, which flattens in 2 to 3 days and the dead skin falls off in 2 to 4 weeks.
Preparation for cryotherapy
No prior preparation for cryotherapy is usually necessary. As an exception, in the treatment of viral papillomas formed inside the cervix by HPV, it may require some preparation to be indicated by the specialist, such as avoiding eating and drinking a couple of hours before the procedure.
Some skin lesions, especially warts, may need to be treated more than once.
After the cryotherapy session there is usually redness, swelling and some blistering in the treated area, which heals within a few days. The patient can return home within half an hour of treatment.
Alternatives to cryotherapy
The main alternative to cryotherapy is electrocoagulation, which instead of freezing the lesion, coagulates and cuts it using heat, by means of a high intensity electric current. Electrocoagulation is not recommended for warts on the palms of the hands and feet, as healing can be complicated and painful.