What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a treatment that has been offered by dermatologist since the beginning of the 20th century. From the 1940s onwards, it has involved the use of liquid nitrogen, kept in subzero conditions within a vacuum container, which is sprayed on affected skin cells for a number of seconds. This produces a very controlled cold burn, which will destroy cells in the top layer of the skin.
The treated area will thaw again in one or two minutes. Skin thus treated may become inflamed and blister in the short term but this will usually settle within two or three days or a little longer for larger areas.
The advantage of this treatment is that it will often replace the need for a surgical operation. Cryotherapy is administered at an outpatient appointment.
What dermatological conditions are treated with cryotherapy?
Sun-damaged skin and related lesions are highly amenable to intervention with cryotherapy. It is also used with actinic keratoses, seborrhoeic keratoses,solar lentigo, viral warts, condyloma acuminatum, molluscum contagiosum, dermatofibroma, Bowen’s disease and other benign lesions that are amenable to cryotherapy treatment. It can also be used for small basal cell cancers.
What are the advantages of this treatment?
Liquid nitrogen spray equipment is easy to use and can be employed for a wide variety of skin lesions. It involves a short preparation time, low risk of infection and minimal wound care. It doesn’t require local anaesthesia or the use of sutures.
Are there any contraindications to the use of cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, involving as it does the application of extreme cold to the skin, may not be the treatment of choice for all patients. Your dermatologist will ensure that you are a suitable candidate for cryotherapy before proceeding to treatment.
Possible side effects and care following treatment
Cryotherapy may give rise to swelling, blister formation, headache and/or changes in skin pigmentation. Scarring following cryotherapy is rare but it is important not to pick at any blisters or scabs that may form. The treated site should be kept clean and dry and any blistering that does occur will form a dry crust and fall off by itself. Vaseline is sometimes recommended to keep the area comfortable.
While the risk of infection with cryotherapy is low, if increasing pain and redness were to occur within a few days of treatment, patients are advised to see their GP for a prescription for antibiotic cream or tablets.
How many sessions of cryotherapy are required?
Often one session is all that is required but this does depend on the nature and extent of the lesion being treated.