Cryosurgery, also referred to as cryotherapy, is the application of extreme cold to treat a number of diseases and disorders, particularly benign and malignant skin conditions. The process involves freezing cells with liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide mixed with acetone, or argon. When this is done, ice-crystals form inside the cells causing the cells to break up. During the process the blood vessels in the affected area also get frozen. This too helps to break up the cells.
Liver cancer, prostate cancer, cervical disorders, certain kinds of skin cancers and haemorrhoids can all be treated with cryosurgery, as long as the status is localized. However, cryosurgery is a particularly useful tool in the treatment of benign skin conditions such as warts, non-cancerous moles, skin tags, and solar keratoses.
Cryosurgery is often preferred to traditional kinds of surgery because it is minimally invasive and less painful. The procedure also leaves fewer scars and is cheaper. Localized pain experienced by the patient can be controlled with analgesics and any resulting blisters clear after a few days.
Skin Conditions Treatable Through Cryosurgery
a) Actinic keratosis
This is a skin condition caused by frequent exposure to the sun. Thick, scaly and crusty lumps appear on the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, hands, arms or lips. It is important to consult a doctor as actinic keratosis can progress into skin cancer.
Warts are common and caused by a virus. They generally appear on the hands or feet and look like blisters. Warts usually disappear after a few months but can last for years and has a habit of recurring.
There are many kinds of warts:
Common wart – a raised wart with roughened surface, most common on hands and knees;
Flat wart – a small, smooth flattened wart, tan or flesh coloured, which can occur in large numbers; most common on the face, neck, hands, wrists and knees;
Filiform or digitate wart – a thread- or finger-like wart, most common on the face, especially near the eyelids and lips;
Plantar wart – a hard sometimes painful lump, often with multiple black specks in the center; usually only found on pressure points on the soles of the feet;
Mosaic wart- a group of tightly clustered plantar-type warts, commonly found on the hands or soles of the feet;
Genital wart – a wart that occurs on the genitalia.
Like warts, there are many kinds of moles. The majority of moles appear during the first two decades of a personâ€™s life. Some moles are benign while some can turn out to be cancerous. It often requires a dermatologist to fully evaluate moles. For instance, a small blue or bluish black spot, often called a blue nevus, is usually benign but often mistaken for melanoma. On the other hand, a junctional nevus, which develops at the junction of the dermis and epidermis, is potentially cancerous. A mole can be either sub dermal (under the skin) or a pigmented growth on the skin. Moles are a member of the family of skin lesions known as nevi. The most common types of moles are skin tags, raised moles and flat moles. Non-troublesome moles are usually circular or oval and not very large. Some moles typically produce dark, coarse hair. Common mole hair removal procedures include plucking, cosmetic waxing, electrolysis, threading and cauterization.
The most important thing to do with regard to moles, is to get a diagnosis on whether they are benign or cancerous. If they are benign, they can be removed by cryosurgery, or cauterization.
d) Skin Tags (Acrochordons)
Skin tags are soft flaps of skin that vary in size from very tiny to the size of a pencil eraser tip. They are not painful unless they become twisted, constantly in contact with clothing, irritated, or inflamed. Skin tags are likely to grow on skin surfaces that are hot, moist, or frequently rubbed. Skin tags usually appear around the neck, under the arms, under the breasts, in groin creases, and on the inside of the upper thigh area. The reason skin tags form is not known. Skin tags are usually removed by cryosurgery, normal surgery or electric cauterization.