Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill abnormal cells. It can be used for early stage basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and precancerous actinic keratosis. It usually has less side effects than other types of treatment, is less expensive and has a shorter recovery time. Because cryosurgery is targeted to just the area where skin cancer is, there is little damage done to healthy tissue around the lesion. This type of procedure can sometimes be done in an outpatient facility or in your doctor’s office, without an overnight hospital stay.
When Cryosurgery is Used
While cryosurgery can be used for basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, it is most often used for actinic keratoses. It may be used if the lesion is the first time skin cancer has developed in a specific area or if there are multiple skin cancers that need to be removed. Cryosurgery can also be used if you have a medical condition which would make more invasive surgery difficult or if you have a bleeding disorder.
While side effects are not normally as severe as with other types of treatment, there may still be some side effects:
- There may be some swelling or scarring
- You may lose some sensation in the area if nerves are damaged during the procedure which may take up to 12 to 18 months to return
- There may be loss of pigmentation and hair
- Bleeding and blisters
- Wound may heal slowly
You may also experience some pain at the cryosurgery site, especially if lesions are on the fingertips, ears and temples. If lesions are on the temple or forehead, you may experience a headache.
There is little information available on the long-term effects of cryosurgery when used on basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. The National Cancer Institute indicates that, "Additional studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of cryosurgery in controlling cancer and improving survival. Data from these studies will allow physicians to compare cryosurgery with standard treatment options such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation." 
However, a study reviewing records over a 30 year period showed high rates of success. The study was completed at the New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J. and reviewed 4406 cases of these types of cancer in 2932 patients. Researchers found a 99 percent cure rate over 5 years and a 98.6 cure rate over 30 years.
"Cryosurgery for Common Skin Conditions," 2004, May 15, Mark D. Andrews, American Family Physician, pp. 2365-2372
"Cryosurgery for Skin Cancer: 30 Year Experience and Cure Rates," 2004, Feb 30, E.G. Kuflik, Dermatology Surgery, pp. 297-300
 "Cryosurgery in Cancer Treatment: Questions and Answers," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Cancer Institute
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.