What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a relatively new, minimally invasive treatment used to treat prostate and kidney cancer. By undergoing cryotherapy, you can avoid open surgery or radiotherapy. It can also be used as secondary treatment if the surgery or radiotherapy fails. This technique uses ultrafine needles, similar to those used in biopsies, to deliver very cold gases to destroy cancer.
How does it work?
Cryotherapy aims to kill cancer cells by freezing them. The procedure requires either spinal or epidural anaesthesia or general anaesthesia.
For prostate cancer, your doctor will guide several hollow needles through the skin between the anus and into the prostate. Liquid nitrogen is then passed through the needles and into the prostate to destroy the cancer cells detected inside.
Concerning kidney tumours, your doctor will find the cancer using X-ray or ultrasound scans. They then make a skin incision above the kidney, which can also be done through keyhole surgery, and pass similar hollow needles into the kidney through the skin. Liquid nitrogen is then passed into the kidney to kill the cancer cells.
The intervention doesn't usually exceed two hours and most people have a speedy recovery.
Are there any side-effects?
The treatment can be painful once the anaesthesia wears off and you will likely need to take painkillers for a few days after. Some patients report incontinence, urethral sloughing and scarring following cryotherapy, however, in most cases, symptoms are resolved within two weeks. Other side-effects include:
- Pain and swelling of the penis and scrotum
- Painful urination
- Blood in urine
- Bleeding or infection
- Bleeding around the kidney
- Urine leakage
- Weakness from nerve damage
- Injury to your ureter
Although cryotherapy has improved thanks to the advances in medicine and science, many men still experience long-term sexual and erectile dysfunction following cryotherapy for prostate cancer.
You will normally be able to go home on the same day as your procedure. You may need a catheter in place for around two weeks while you heal and you may need to take antibiotics to prevent any infections. It is normal to feel pain and bruising where the needles were inserted. You will also have to go back to see the doctor for regular appointments and tests to check how well your cancer responded to the treatment.