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Cryosurgery is a relatively painless surgical procedure that uses extremely cold temperatures to remove or destroy small growths on the skin. This same procedure is used on people.
Cryosurgery (or cryotherapy) is the application of extreme cold to destroy abnormal or diseased tissue. The term comes from the Greek "cryo" meaning icy cold and the word surgery meaning literally "hand work." Cryosurgery is used to treat a number of diseases and disorders, especially skin conditions. Cryotherapy may be a better description of the procedure, since surgery is usually associated with cutting and in most cases, this treatment (therapy) does not involve actual cutting. Cryotherapy has been in use for over two hundred years. The application of intense cold will result in the death of the targeted tissue and the numbing of surrounding sensory nerves, reducing pain and discomfort.
Cryotherapy uses freezing temperatures to destroy cells in the target tissues. Most of the body’s cells are comprised of about 70% water. When cells are subjected to freezing temperatures, ice crystals form inside the cells, causing them to tear and rupture. Additional cellular and tissue damage occurs when blood vessels supplying the diseased tissue freeze. The most common method of performing cryosurgery is with liquid nitrogen. The supercooled liquid nitrogen is sprayed on the diseased tissue, circulated through a tube called a cryoprobe, or simply dabbed on with a cotton or foam swab. Recent technologic advances include the development of ultra-thin 17 gauge cryoneedles, and the ability to use Argon gas to cause ice formation, using a principle known as the Joule-Thompson effect. This newer procedure gives doctors excellent control of the amount of tissue that is frozen and helps minimize complications.
How effective is cryosurgery? In many cases, it can be curative depending on the condition and the site. The technique is sometimes also used for the removal of aberrant or extra eyelashes (distichiasis). This procedure has a high success rate. Small warts and small skin tumors are usually cured with just one cryotherapy session. Tumors in the mouth often go into remission after one treatment and cause no further trouble.