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Cryotherapy for Abnormal Cervical Cell Changes

Surgery Overview

Cryotherapy destroys abnormal tissue on the cervix by freezing it. Cryotherapy destroys some normal tissue along with the abnormal tissue. During cryotherapy, liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), which is very cold, circulates through a probe placed next to the abnormal tissue. This freezes the tissue for 2 to 3 minutes. It may be allowed to thaw and then be refrozen for another 2 to 3 minutes. A single freeze treatment for 5 minutes may also be used.

Cryotherapy causes some discomfort. Most women feel a sensation of cold and a little cramping. And sometimes a sense of warmth spreads to the upper body and face.

Cryotherapy is not adequate treatment if abnormal cells are high in the cervical canal. In that case, another treatment, such as a cone biopsy, is recommended instead of cryotherapy.

How it is done

Cryotherapy is usually done at your doctor's office, a clinic, or a hospital as an outpatient procedure. You do not have to spend a night in the hospital.

You will need to take off your clothes below the waist and drape a paper or cloth covering around your waist. You will then lie on your back on an exam table with your feet raised and supported by footrests (stirrups). Your doctor will insert a lubricated tool called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum gently spreads apart the vaginal walls, allowing the inside of the vagina and the cervix to be examined.

Your doctor may use medicine to numb the cervix (cervical block).

What To Expect After Surgery

Most women are able to return to their normal activity level the day after the cryotherapy procedure.

After cryotherapy

  • A watery vaginal discharge will occur for about 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Pads should be used instead of tampons for 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Sexual intercourse should be avoided for 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Douching should not be done for 2 to 3 weeks.

When to call your doctor

Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A fever
  • Moderate to heavy bleeding (more than you would usually have during a menstrual period)
  • Increasing pelvic pain
  • Bad-smelling or yellowish vaginal discharge, which may point to an infection

Why It Is Done

Cryotherapy is done when abnormal Pap test results have been confirmed by colposcopy. If the results of endocervical curettage do not show abnormal tissue high inside the cervical canal, then cryotherapy can be used to treat the abnormal tissue seen with colposcopy.

How Well It Works

Cryotherapy is an effective method for destroying abnormal cervical tissue, depending on the size, depth, and type of abnormal tissue. Studies have had differing results. They show that cryotherapy destroys all of the abnormal tissue in 77 to 96 out of 100 cases.1

Risks

Destruction of the abnormal tissue will not be complete if the abnormal cells are too deep in the cervical tissue.

What To Think About

If you have cryotherapy, you need regular follow-up Pap tests. Pap tests should be repeated every 4 to 6 months or as recommended by your doctor. After several Pap test results are normal, you and your doctor can decide how often to schedule future Pap tests.

Cryotherapy is not a treatment for cervical cancer.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

References

Citations

  1. Garcia F, et al. (2012). Intraepithelial diseases of the cervix, vagina, and vulva. In JS Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 15th ed., pp. 574–618. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised December 12, 2012

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