Cryosurgery for Skin Lesions: A Dermatologist Answers Your Questions

Merely Me Health Guide
  • 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.

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    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.


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    • Following your cryosurgery, you may feel pain and experience swelling and redness. Some physicians apply a topical steroid to the affected area after the freezing procedure. Taking medication (aspirin) to reduce inflammation and discomfort may also be suggested by your doctor. There may be a small risk of ulceration and infection to the affected skin area following your procedure. You will want to check with your doctor if you have any questions about the healing process.


    • Most patients report that they are pleased with the appearance of their skin after they have healed from cryosurgery. But some individuals may experience skin color changes to the affected site.


    For more information about cryosurgery to treat precancerous skin growths or lesions please refer to the following articles and resources:


    The National Cancer Institute

    Treatment for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers


    New Zealand Dermatological Society: Cryosurgery

Published On: September 06, 2011