It sounds like something out of a science-fiction novel, but many people are turning to cryotherapy to alleviate chronic pain, slow aging and even treat some cancers.
Cryotherapy uses extreme cold (temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero) to shock the body, stimulate the immune system, control pain and bleeding and kill cancer cells. Living tissue, whether healthy or diseased, cannot withstand extreme cold and die from the ice crystals that form within the cell, as well as from the loss of blood supply.
Cryotherapy is a process that usually requires two cycles of freezing and thawing the cells. Once the cells are destroyed, the body’s white blood cells clear out the dead tissue.
Treating Cancer with Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is a minimally invasive treatment for some cancers and other lesions. It is most often used as a topical treatment in which a dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen directly to the skin to kill diseased tissues, including early-stage skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions.
Cryotherapy can also be used to treat skin tumors, nodules and skin tags, as well as some forms of cervical, prostate and bone cancer. In clinical trials, researchers are testing ways cryotherapy or cryosurgery might also be used as a treatment for breast cancer.
To treat cancers such as cervical, prostate and bone cancer, liquid nitrogen or argon gas is applied directly to the cancer cells using one or more small needles called cryoprobes. A local anesthetic is applied to the area, and CT or MRI scans are used to accurately place the cryoprobes. The patient may also be given a mild sedative.
To prepare for cryotherapy skin treatment, your physician may recommend taking ibuprofen shortly before the procedure to minimize discomfort. An antibiotic may also be given to prevent infection. Topical cryotherapy treatment is generally an outpatient procedure, but patients undergoing cryosurgery or deeper cryotherapy to treat tumors may require an overnight hospital stay after the procedure.
Cryotherapy to Slow Aging
In a new beauty trend, many people are turning to cryotherapy to maintain a youthful look. During a whole-body cryotherapy treatment, the individual steps into a cryotherapy chamber full of freezing nitrogen gas for two to three minutes. The treatment is believed—but has not yet been proven—to slow aging.
Cryotherapy for Pain Relief
The cryotherapy chamber treatment was first developed in Europe as a way to treat chronic pain related to fibromyalgia, arthritis and other conditions. Today, many sports teams use cryotherapy to help athletes with recovery following physical activity.
Note: Individuals who have high blood pressure, poor circulation, asthma, blood clots or who are pregnant should not undergo whole-body cryotherapy.