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Cryosurgery for Skin Conditions: How Does It Work?

We’ve asked three questions to Holly Singletary, certified dermatologist and a member of Flo Medical Board, to learn about cryosurgery as a treatment option to remove some of the common skin conditions. Get to know the basics of this treatment below.

What is cryosurgery?  

Cryosurgery is the use of extremely cold temperatures to treat abnormalities of tissue.

In the field of dermatology, we use liquid nitrogen stored in an insulated canister to treat many types of benign skin growths, pre-cancerous lesions and even superficial skin cancers. We apply the liquid nitrogen through a nozzle on the insulated canister or we use a cotton-tipped applicator dipped in liquid nitrogen and applied directly to the lesion being treated. 

The extreme cold temperatures freeze the skin cells and as it thaws the cells break apart facilitating the removal of the lesion.  

What are the most common areas of cryosurgery application?

Many patients visit a dermatologist for a comprehensive full body skin check.

During this skin exam, we are identifying any suspicious lesions concerning for precancer, abnormal moles or skin cancer. During the exam, many will point out lesions on their skin that are benign, or harmless, but because of their location they may be causing the patient discomfort or irritation and they request their removal. 

There are several ways to remove skin lesions and cryosurgery is one of the most common and easily accessible options.

Depending on the size and location of the lesion, it is treated for a few seconds and allowed to thaw. This may be repeated for 2-3 cycles. After treating the lesion with liquid nitrogen, the patient can expect the lesion to turn slightly pink to red, swell and over the next few days develop into a crust which will fall off in about 5-14 days.  

We also use cryotherapy to treat verruca vulgaris.

This is often used in combination with other treatment modalities and can effectively treat warts in just a few monthly sessions. This destructive method sends the immune system into action to help the body rid the wart from the skin. Warts often take multiple treatment sessions for removal.

We often use cryotherapy for precancerous lesions called actinic keratoses. These are slightly pink, rough textured growths which may be tender to the touch. They are most commonly present in sun exposed surfaces of middle-aged to older individuals.

Actinic keratosis has a risk of turning into skin cancer, so treatment is recommended to prevent the need for potentially more invasive therapies in the future. 

Cryotherapy may also be used as a treatment option in patients with superficial skin cancers who are not candidates for conventional surgery.  

Is cryosurgery popular nowadays or its use is rare?  

Cryotherapy is a very commonly used treatment used in dermatology. 

We use this minimally invasive treatment option many times throughout the day for the removal of benign skin lesions such as seborrheic keratoses, skin tags and warts as well as for precancerous and malignant skin lesions. 

It has very effective and reliable results with minimal side effects or downtime.  

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