Cryotherapy for the skin

Definition

Cryotherapy is a method of superfreezing tissue in order to destroy it. This article discusses cryotherapy of the skin.

Alternative Names

Cryotherapy - skin; Cryosurgery - skin; Warts - freezing; Warts - cryotherapy; Actinic keratosis - cryotherapy; Solar keratosis - cryotherapy

Description

Cryotherapy is done using a cotton swab that has been dipped into liquid nitrogen or a probe that has liquid nitrogen flowing through it.

The procedure is done in your health care provider's office. It usually takes less than a minute.

The freezing may cause some discomfort. Your provider may apply a numbing medicine to the area first.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Cryotherapy or cryosurgery may be used to:

In rare cases, cryotherapy is used to treat some skin cancers. But, skin that is destroyed during cryotherapy cannot be examined under a microscope. A skin biopsy is needed if your provider wants to check the lesion for signs of cancer.

Risks

Cryotherapy risks include:

After the Procedure

Cryotherapy works well for many people. Some skin lesions, especially warts, may need to be treated more than once.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The treated area may look red after the procedure. A blister will often form within a few hours. It may appear clear or have a red or purple color.

You may have a little pain for up to 3 days.

Most of the time, no special care is needed during healing. The area should be washed gently once or twice a day and kept clean. A bandage or dressing should only be needed if the area rubs against clothes or may be easily injured.

A scab forms and will usually peel away within 1 to 3 weeks, depending on the area treated.

Call your provider if:

References

Dinulos JGH. Dermatologic surgical procedures. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 27.

Pasquali P. Cryosurgery. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L, eds. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 138.


Review Date: 8/14/2021
Reviewed By: Elika Hoss, MD, Senior Associate Consultant, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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