Cryosurgery is a common practice in dermatology

Cryosurgery is the use of extreme cold to treat medical conditions. It works by freezing off harmful cells or skin tags, leaving room for new cells to grow. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, from warts to early-stage skin cancers, as well as some internal conditions and cancers. It doesn’t have many risks associated with it, and is a low-pain, minimally invasive option compared to surgery. 

How It Works

Your doctor will use an agent to administer the extreme cold to the affected area. This can be a cotton swab with the freezing agent, like a carbon dioxide snow slush, or liquid nitrogen applied by spraying or painting. This extreme cold is maintained for different amounts of times depending on the size and depth of the lesion, creating an ice ball on the skin. The freeze causes direct necrosis of the area, allowing it to then fall off. 

Conditions It’s Used For

Medical professionals commonly use cryosurgery to treat warts, skin tags and lesions. It’s also used for precancerous skin conditions and early stages of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. It is not a first line of treatment for more advanced cases of skin cancer. 

Actinic keratosis, a scaly patch caused by sun damage, is very amenable to cryosurgery treatment, with a complete cure rate of 39-83%. Seborrheic keratosis, a non-cancerous, benign skin growth common as we grow older, can be treated with cryosurgery but typically requires multiple treatments depending on size and severity. 

Risks of cryosurgery

Cryosurgery is minimally-invasive and much lower risk than surgical options, but there are a few side effects you might encounter with treatment. Many treated areas will blister over, however unless there’s pus and an infection, these blisters are harmless and a sign of healing. Patients might also experience local nerve damage, but this is temporary. Contact your doctor if you experience more severe symptoms.

Healing Time

The treated area will likely cause mild pain and redness that doesn’t last more than a few days. Blisters might form that eventually scab over. It’s important not to pick the scab; it will likely fall off in five-10 days if on the face, three weeks for the hand, and up to three months on the leg. 

Talk with any of the Lakeside Dermatology providers to learn more and find out if it’s right for your health concern.

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