Cryotherapy is a quick office procedure that has many benefits. It is used to treat both benign and malignant skin lesions. The healing process after cryotherapy treatments is pretty straightforward and serious side effects are rare. However, to maintain healthy skin, you do need to take some precautions. Here's what you should know about recovery after cryotherapy.
What is cryotherapy treatment for skin cancer?
Cryotherapy is a treatment in which a dermatologist exposes the skin to freezing temperatures. This is done to destroy abnormal tissues in a skin lesion. It is also called cold therapy. The most common substances used to accomplish this are liquid nitrogen and argon gas. As the skin is subjected to temperatures between -200 and -300 degrees Fahrenheit, the extreme cold destroys and kills the cells in the abnormal tissue.
Doctors use cryotherapy to treat various skin conditions such as skin tags, warts, sun damaged skin, precancerous skin lesions called actinic keratoses that can turn into squamous cell carcinoma, as well as superficial skin cancers.
The treatment, also known as cryoablation, can be done internally in the body to treat certain types of cancers, such as liver, cervical, and prostate cancer.
The key benefits of cryotherapy are that the skin surrounding the lesion that is treated is not damaged. Also, the treatment leaves virtually no scar.
What happens during cryotherapy?
Dermatologists ask patients to arrive for their cryotherapy appointment with clean, make-up free skin. Other than this, you don’t need any special preparation before cryotherapy.
To treat the skin lesion, your dermatologist will apply liquid nitrogen with a spray or cotton swab to freeze the abnormal tissue. If you are having cryoablation of an internal lesion, your doctor will insert a cryoprobe through a small incision in the skin to expose the lesion to extreme cold. Sometimes, ultrasound image guidance is used to accurately find the tissue that needs to be frozen.
Is cryotherapy painful?
Cryotherapy can be painful. Most people describe it as a sharp cold or stinging sensation. To keep you as comfortable as possible, your dermatologist may use a local anesthetic to numb the area being treated. Occasionally, depending on the location of the skin lesion, doctors may use general anesthesia.
Mild pain after cryotherapy can last for a few hours to few days. This can be managed with over-the-counter pain pills. The skin can also feel itchy and irritated after the procedure.
Some people get a headache after cryotherapy. It is a tension headache caused by the scalp muscles tightening. The headache typically lasts for a few hours and responds well to pain killers and massage.
How long does it take to heal after cryotherapy?
How do I take care of my skin after cryotherapy?
No specific aftercare is needed after cryotherapy procedures for benign skin conditions or skin cancer. But you do need to follow your dermatologist's instructions carefully to reduce the risk of scarring and other complications after the treatment.
Generally speaking, dermatologists recommend you leave the treated spots uncovered and let them heal naturally over the next 2-3 weeks after treatment. Other skin care tips you should follow include:
- wash the treated area with mild, fragrance-free soap and water.
- petroleum jelly (Vaseline or Aquaphor) on the treated area daily for 2 weeks. This will help prevent crusting. If a crust does develop, continue using Vaseline until the crust falls off.
- in the treated area is common after cryotherapy. The blisters are usually painless. They sometimes weep clear fluid. Do not puncture a blister because this can delay healing. If there is any drainage from the area, you can cover it with a Band-Aid.
- there is bleeding in the treated area, press a clean gauze on the area firmly for about 15 minutes. If the bleeding does not stop even after doing this a couple of times, call your dermatologist's office.
- the treated area heals, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 at least) to reduce the risk of scarring.
There can be discoloration (redness, pinkness, light or dark spots) in the treated area for up to one year or even permanently after a cryotherapy treatment. Also, depending on how deep the tissue was frozen, there may be permanent hair loss in the treated area.
What should I avoid after cryotherapy?
Avoid using any creams, powders, or ointments on the treated area unless recommended by your dermatologist. Also, avoid using antiseptics such as Dettol, Savlon, or Betadine. While antiseptics help kill bacteria if there is a wound infection, they can be toxic and may delay wound healing by damaging the new skin cells that are developing in the treated area.
Do not use any scented soap or harsh skincare products like exfoliants or scrubs on the treated areas. Also avoid using lotion and makeup until the area is fully healed. This will take 10-14 days after the procedure.
What can I do to speed up wound healing from liquid nitrogen cryotherapy?
It is not unusual for a patient to express concern about the appearance of treated actinic keratoses after liquid nitrogen cryotherapy. These lesions often occur in sun exposed areas like the forehead and can be conspicuous while they heal.
There are a couple of treatments that can speed up wound healing after liquid nitrogen cryotherapy. The first is a silicone/hypochlorous acid gel called Epicyn. It can encourage healing by keeping the wound moist and sealing the wound. This results in faster healing after cryotherapy with less scarring.
Another treatment that can reduce wound healing time after cryotherapy is a trolamine-containing topical emulsion called Biafine. It has been used in Europe for more than two decades and is available in the United States by prescription to treat burns and wounds. The emulsion helps to reduce swelling, keep the skin hydrated, and accelerate the healing process. Studies have shown that twice daily application of Biafine can speed up healing after cryotherapy by an average of 2-3 days.
When should I call the doctor's office?
Most people recover from cryotherapy within a few days. Complications are extremely rare. However, you should contact the dermatology clinic if you develop the following signs and symptoms after cryotherapy:
- fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Centigrade) or higher
- or swelling extending to untreated healthy skin around a treated skin lesion
- discomfort or pain
- that does not stop
- bad odor from the wound
- oozing from the wound (greenish/yellow discharge)
- or hard skin in the treated area
Cryotherapy procedures are simple and safe, can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions, and do not require any specific care after treatment. You can go ahead with your treatments confident in the knowledge that the outlook is generally excellent after cryotherapy.
If you would like to find dermatologists who offer cryotherapy treatment in your area, the MeTime app makes it incredibly easy. You can chat with experts, share photos, get quotes, and even book your treatment by paying securely through the app.