Cryotherapy or cryoablation is a minimally invasive procedure that is used to treat tumours of the prostate gland. It involves freezing the cancerous tissue in the prostate to temperatures as low as -40 degrees centigrade to destroy cancer cells. Cryotherapy is indicated for localized low-risk cancers of the prostate as well as tumours that have recurred after radiation treatment.
The prostate gland is present below the bladder and around the urethra (the tube carrying urine out of your body) in men. Prostate cancer is characterized by enlargement of the gland, blocking the flow of urine and resultant difficulties in urination.
Procedure of Cryotherapy
The procedure is performed under general or regional anaesthesia. You will lie down on your back with your feet in stirrups. Needles called cryoprobes are passed through the skin between your scrotum and anus under the guidance of imaging techniques. Liquid argon is passed through the needles to freeze the cancer cells. The low temperatures are maintained for a few minutes and then followed by a thawing phase in which argon is replaced with helium. The procedure is repeated, and the needles are removed. Imaging and sensors are used throughout to limit freezing to only cancerous areas while protecting critical structures. The urethra which passes through the prostate is protected by a catheter (a long tube) through which warm liquid passes. This is left in after the procedure to keep the passage open until healing occurs. The procedure may require a one-day stay in the hospital.
Complications of Cryotherapy
As with all surgical procedures, cryotherapy for the prostate carries certain risks and complications that include nerve damage, which can lead to erectile dysfunction, and rarely, urinary incontinence (inability to control urine). Other risks include bleeding, swelling of the penis or scrotum, urinary difficulties, and soreness where the needles were inserted.
When compared to radical prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland), which is an alternative treatment for prostate cancer, cryotherapy is less invasive and is associated with a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, and less blood loss and pain.