Cryotherapy in cancer treatment

Published 4 Feb 2023 • By Claudia Lima

4 February is World Cancer Day. This awareness-raising day is an opportunity to highlight the challenges in the fight against cancer, to inform general population about scientific and medical progress and to raise awareness of the means of prevention and diagnosis and the types of care available. 

Each type of cancer requires a specific treatment protocol. Cancer treatments generally include surgery, radiotherapy and/or systemic treatment, i.e. treatment that acts on the whole body by means of a chemical, such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, for example. 

Cryotherapy is also a type of treatment.
But what exactly is it? How does it work? How effective is cryotherapy? 

Find all the answers in our article!

Cryotherapy in cancer treatment

Treatment strategy for cancer depends on the type of cancer and the patient's profile. The aims of cancer treatment are: 

  • to cure the patient or prolong their life, 
  • to improve the patient's quality of life through supportive care (pain management, nutritional management, psychological and social support, as well as advice on lifestyle).

Cryotherapy is one of cancer treatments. This technique is becoming increasingly important in treating certain tumours, particularly when surgery is not possible.

What is cryotherapy and who can benefit from it?  

Cryotherapy is a method of treatment by the cold that has been practiced for centuries. It consists of applying cold to a painful or affected area of the body and generating a vasoconstriction effect that reduces pain and trauma. Today, it is best known for its use in high-performance sport.

There are several techniques, local or general, used in physiotherapy, traumatology, dermatology and aesthetic medicine.

Local treatment can be administered using ice packs, cryogels or cryo-bombs. In dermatology, cryotherapy can be practiced locally with a cotton swab, soaked in liquid nitrogen and placed on the skin. Thermal shock helps to burn the area. 

Treating the whole body is possible by means of cold baths, with immersion in cold water, or in a cryotherapy chamber, the WBC (whole-body cryotherapy) where the temperatures can reach below -110°C. In this case, the whole body is exposed to ultra-low temperatures, which helps to: 

  • Soothe pain and inflammation, 
  • Improve respiratory function, 
  • Boost the immune system, 
  • Accelerate muscle recovery, 
  • Accelerate healing, 
  • Tone the skin, 
  • Reduce stress and sleep disorders.

More people can now benefit from cryotherapy. Apart from professional athletes, people suffering from certain chronic conditions, including numerous joint diseases (osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, etc.) are also able to enjoy the benefits of this method. 

However, there are some contraindications. People suffering with high blood pressure, kidney or bladder diseases, Raynaud's syndrome and patients with a pacemaker should not undergo cryotherapy. 

In recent years, cryotherapy has been used in the treatment of certain cancers. It is known as cryosurgery or cryoablation.

How is cryotherapy used in cancer treatment?  

Cryotherapy in cancer treatment is defined as a procedure that destroys cancer cells or metastases by means of extreme cold.

This method is used in the treatment of certain cancers such as liver cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. It can replace or complement surgery as an alternative treatment, as it can treat the following types of patients: 

  • patients who have too many contraindications to surgery and/or anaesthesia due to obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular disease
  • patients with isolated metastases, known as oligometastatic patients, 
  • patients with advanced cancer and so-called intractable cancer pain, where the destruction of part or all of the tumour improves quality of life.

Cryotherapy falls into the category of interventional radiology, which allows for the image-guided destruction of certain tumours. It is a minimally invasive treatment that involves the insertion of needles through the skin and into the area to be treated - the tumour. 

The doctor is guided by an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan, and the needles freeze the tumour at -40° to -60°C. These needles are special: at the end of each one, a decompression chamber allows the release of argon, a refrigerated gas, which lowers the temperature to -40°C. A ball of ice is formed at the end of the needles, which encases the tumour and destroys it by the cold. The tumour is left in place, so it is necessary to carry out regular check-ups using medical imagery, to ensure that there are no more viable tumour cells.

Cryotherapy is performed under local or general anaesthesia, it is a short and simple procedure that allows the patient to be quickly discharged from hospital.

Cryotherapy is one of the most promising approaches to treatment of certain tumours. Clinical studies are underway to expand the indications for cryotherapy and to include other types of metastases and certain inoperable cancers.

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Take care!
avatar Claudia Lima

Author: Claudia Lima, Health Writer

Claudia is a content creator at Carenity, specializing in health writing.

Claudia holds a master's degree in Entrepreneurship and an Executive MBA in Sales and Marketing Management. She is specialized in... >> Learn more

Who reviewed it: Nada Doukkali, Pharmacy student, Health Writer

Nada is a pharmacy student at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Rouen, France. Her knowledge of the medical field allows her to write health articles and help in the creation of Carenity's patient surveys.

On the... >> Learn more


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