What Are Common Cryosurgery Side Effects?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2020
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Cryosurgery involves the application of very low temperatures to undesirable tissues, such as cancers, in order to destroy the cells. This technique is localized to the affected area, and poses little risk to other parts of the body. With regard to cryosurgery side effects, the risks depend on the area being treated, although overall, the commonest risks include pain and irritation at the site of treatment, bleeding and alterations in the appearance of the treated area.

Central to the concept of cryosurgery is the use of freezing substances to kill diseased cells. Common substances used to freeze the undesirable tissue include nitrogen gas and argon gas. This type of procedure also typically involves the use of ultrasound or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) to direct the surgeon to the diseased tissue site. This technique has applications in treating a variety of solid cancers, as well as certain skin conditions.


As the technique involves a destructive application of cold to cells, some of the most common cryosurgery side effects relate to the skin or tissue that is left behind after surgery. The tissue at the site has been exposed to damaging cold, and therefore can develop irritation, pain or swelling at the location. A blister can develop at the damaged site, and the area can bleed abnormally. If the cryosurgery side effects occur on the skin, the normal coloration of the skin at that location can be temporarily heightened or reduced, and a lumpy scar can develop that is reduced in size over time. Hair can fall out in the area, nerves can become less sensitive than before, and the pores of the skin can become more blocked than usual.

When these most common cryosurgery side effects are located in areas that are particularly sensitive, then significant medical problems can arise. For example, cryosurgery in the urinary tract can result in irritation to the lining of the tract that causes problems urinating. If the procedure is used in the male reproductive tract, sexual dysfunction can occur. Treatment of abnormal tissue in a woman's reproductive tract can cause cramps and abnormal bleeding.

Serious problems that may occur after cryosurgery include the development of blockages in organ systems due to scarring. The surgery may also cause holes in tissue, or inadvertently damage the tissue around the diseased tissue. Despite the risks to cryosurgery, the technique can sometimes be less risky than other forms of treatment like chemotherapy or radiation, as these too, carry a risk of side effects.


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