Many of you have had questions about treatment to remove non-melanoma skin lesions. We have talked extensively about Mohs Surgery as a treatment option to remove certain types of skin cancers especially basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Today we are going to talk about a surgical technique called cryosurgery, which is primarily used to treat pre-cancerous skin growths or lesions. Cryosurgery (sometimes called cryotherapy) is a procedure where skin cancer cells are destroyed by freezing the affected area with liquid nitrogen.
We have called upon the expertise of Doctor Lawrence Green, a practicing dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington DC to answer a member question about cryosurgery and after-care.
To find out more about Dr. Green please visit his website: Aesthetics, Skin Care, and Dermasurgery.
Member kb1967 asks how to take care of a precancerous spot after it has been frozen:
Q: I had a spot frozen yesterday. Are there any special things I need to do to keep it from getting infected?
Dr. Green: The main thing to do after having a spot frozen by a dermatologist is to leave it alone as it swells, scabs off, and then heals. You should gently wash the area with soap and water twice a day. Do not use any scrubbing agents like peroxide. In addition, you can also put on a topical antibiotic agent like Neosporin (or Aquaphor if you are allergic to Neosporin) if you like twice a day. This step is not mandatory, because most spots heal fine without it, but doing this does help the spot heal quicker in my opinion.
Here is some more information about cryosurgery for the treatment of skin lesions:
• Some studies suggest that cryosurgery is effective for actinic keratoses, seborrheic keratoses, dermatofibroma, keloids, molluscum contagiosum, and benign nevi.
• The National Cancer Institute reports that cryosurgery may be used in treating early-stage basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers as well as precancerous lesions called actinic keratoses. Follow-up may be necessary when treating basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas with cryosurgery because the procedure may not always be successful.
• Most skin cancer experts agree that cryosurgery should not be used to treat melanoma or any lesion suspected of being melanoma.
• The advantages of cryosurgery include: It is less invasive and expensive than traditional surgery and can usually be done in an outpatient visit. There is usually less pain, bleeding and other complications associated with other types of surgery.
• The major disadvantage of cryosurgery is that there may be uncertainty about the long term effectiveness of this type of treatment. Repeat surgery may be necessary in some cases if microscopic cancer cells are missed.
• Some studies suggest that cryosurgery may be more effective for long term treatment of actinic keratoses than the use of topical chemotherapy creams containing 5-fluorouracil.