What is cryoablation?
Cryoablation for cancer is a treatment to kill cancer cells with a severe cold. During cryoablation, a thin wand-shaped needle (cryoprobe) is inserted through the skin and directly into the cancerous tumor. Gas is sent to the cryoprobe to freeze the tissue. The tissue is then allowed to thaw. The freezing and thawing process is repeated several times in a single treatment session. This is used for cancer when surgery is not an option.
Cryoablation is sometimes used as the primary treatment to:
- Bone cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Eye cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
This is also used to relieve pain and other symptoms caused by bone (bone metastasis) or cancer that has spread to other organs. Cryoablation for cancer is also known as percutaneous cryoablation, cryosurgery, or cryotherapy.
Risks factors of cryoablation
It is a safe process with many benefits. More importantly, treatment has been very successful in stopping the growth or spread of cancer cells. It provides patients with a faster recovery time with less pain compared to surgical treatment of the tumor.
As with all medical procedures, it carries some minor risks, such as bleeding, infection, and accidental damage to nearby healthy organs. Advanced imaging guidance can help your care team minimize these risks as much as possible.
How to prepare for cryoablation
Before your procedure, your interventional radiologist will ask about your current medications, as some may need to be stopped prior to the scheduled procedure, including blood thinning. Blood tests may also be ordered to make sure your immune system responds and is able to clot.
Your care team will inform you of any restrictions on what you can eat and drink before your appointment. Since you will receive anesthesia during cryoablation, be sure to travel home.
Why cryoablation happens
It is a well-tolerated treatment for a variety of cancers, including:
This can be used to reduce pain and other symptoms caused by the spread of cancer. It is generally recommended when the patient is unable to surgically remove the tumor due to age, general disease burden, or problems with the patient’s heart or lung function.
Cryoablation may be the only method to reduce cancer symptoms when the mass is too dangerous to function, or it may be part of a larger multi-treatment treatment plan. The main characteristics of the tumor, including size, staging, and site, will help your doctor determine if it is effective in killing malignant cells.
What to expect during cryoablation
This is performed by an interventional radiologist in a patient’s setting. However, depending on the site or organ of the tumor, you may need to stay overnight after this procedure. Before the procedure begins, you may receive general anesthesia or anesthesia through an intravenous (IV) line, which will make you feel comfortable and safe during the procedure.
A local anesthetic is then applied to the area of the skin that is accessed through a small incision. Your doctor will then guide a small needle through the incision using ultrasound or CT to help ensure access to the tumor mass. Once in the tumor, the cold tip of the needle freezes the tumor tissue.
Once the tumor has dissolved, the process is repeated several times during a single treatment. Once the procedure is complete, the needle is removed and the area is bandaged. From here you can go to a special recovery area or join a hospital for the night.
What happens after cryoablation?
Full recovery from cryoablation generally takes two to three weeks, during which time patients are asked to steer clear of physically drastic measures to avoid complications after surgery. It’s a good idea to make sure you have extra help around the house at this time.
Cryoablation patients are followed by a series of MRI scans at 1, 3, and 6 months, as well as a CT-controlled needle biopsy at 6 months.
What are the benefits of cryoablation?
Conventional surgery for tumor removal requires an incision of at least 10 to 12 inches. The minimally invasive cryoablation technique requires three to four small incisions for the surgical instruments.
Cryoablation patients benefit from:
- Reduced hospital stay (one day) and faster healing
- Postoperative pain and need for analgesics are minimal
- Shorter recovery time
- Quick return to normal activity (about a week) and work (about two weeks)
- Small incisions and fewer scars