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When abnormal, possibly pre-cancerous, cells are found on a woman's cervix, her doctor may recommend she have cervical cryotherapy. This procedure, also known as cryosurgery, involves using an instrument to apply extreme cold to the abnormal cells to freeze them; this kills the cells, and the body then expels them. The entire process is fairly simple and is typically done on an outpatient basis. Pain is usually minimal, though there may be some discomfort from the cold and from cramping. The doctor will then typically provide instructions for aftercare in the weeks following the procedure.
Cervical cryotherapy is performed by opening the vagina so a probe can be inserted and used to freeze the abnormal cells on the cervix. Typically, a speculum will be inserted first to hold the vagina open. The probe is then placed so it covers the cells that need to be destroyed. Liquid nitrogen then runs through the probe, making the metal in the probe extremely cold so it freezes the cells it is touching. Generally, the process is done twice, once for three minutes, then again for another three minutes once the cells have been allowed to thaw out.
A doctor will normally perform cervical cryotherapy right in his or her office; no hospital stay is usually necessary. The patient will typically be asked to lie on the examination table with her feet in the stirrups as she would during a routine pelvic exam. No anesthesia is usually necessary, and the patient will remain awake throughout the procedure.
Most women find cervical cryotherapy to be only mildly painful at most. There can be some cramping, which can cause discomfort; this normally only lasts the length of the procedure though. Some patients may experience the sensation of cold as well.
Once the cervical cryotherapy is complete, the doctor will usually provide instructions to the patient for the weeks afterward. As the body flushes out the dead cells, most patients will notice a watery discharge; since nothing should be inserted in the vagina for around three weeks, sanitary pads should be used as opposed to tampons. Patients should also avoid sexual intercourse, swimming, or douching. Normal activity can generally be resumed within a day or two after the procedure, though excessive activity or exercise may be discouraged for a time. Patients should be aware of signs of complications or infection such as excessive pain and bleeding, fever, or bad smelling discharge.