Cryotherapy (also known as cryoablation) freezes the prostate to kill cancer cells. The effectiveness of this type of therapy is still being researched. It is not possible to completely destroy all prostate cancer cells with this method of treatment. However, new methods make this treatment more effective at killing cancer cells while limiting side effects.
Cryotherapy is performed in the operating room using general anesthesia or a spinal epidural. An ultrasound probe is inserted into the rectum to show a picture of the prostate on a video monitor. A computer makes a three-dimensional grid of the prostate to account for all the irregularities of the borders of the prostate and to plan the location of the freezing. Cooled helium and argon gases are run through six to eight ultra-thin wands which are placed in the prostate through the perineum. The temperature drops to below minus 40 degrees C, and creates an "ice ball" at the tips of the wands, which freezes the cells. The cells are cycled through a freezing-thawing-refreezing process to make sure all the cells are destroyed.
Benefits of Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is the only prostate cancer treatment procedure that can be repeated if necessary. It also can be followed by surgery or radiation, if necessary. Cryotherapy involves a relatively short - overnight - hospital stay and recovery time with less pain and discomfort than surgery. It is also generally tolerated better than surgery and can be used on patients who are not candidates for surgery because of other health concerns.
Cryotherapy is considered a minimally invasive procedure. The side effects are the same type as those experienced with radiation and surgery. Although the incidence of side effects to the rectum and urethra are higher than traditional surgery, the rate is equivalent to the rate of side effects of radiation therapy. Men who undergo cryotherapy have a 70 percent risk of impotence and 1 percent risk of incontinence. Because of these side effects, this procedure is not typically recommended for young, sexually active men. The long-term data on cryotherapy shows that it is effective for at least eight years, which is the equivalent of effectiveness for radiation therapy or surgery. The 10 to 15-year data are not yet available.