Cryosurgery, also called cryotherapy or cryoablation, is a minimally invasive procedure that uses extreme cold to destroy cancerous tissue. For internal tumors like prostate cancer, argon gas is circulated through a hollow instrument called a cryoprobe, which is placed in contact with the tumor. The doctor uses ultrasound to guide the cryoprobe and monitor the freezing of the cells, thus limiting damage to nearby healthy tissue.
A ball of ice crystals forms around the probe, freezing nearby cells. Sometimes more than one probe is used to deliver the argon gas to the tumor. The probes are inserted through the skin into the tumor at the time of surgery. After cryosurgery, the frozen tissue thaws and is naturally absorbed by the body.
Cryosurgery can be used to treat men who have early-stage prostate cancer that is confined to the prostate gland. It can also be used to treat patients that have recurrent disease after radiation therapy or prostatectomy. Because it treats the prostate directly, cryosurgery is not used to treat prostate cancer that has spread far outside the gland or to distant parts of the body.
Some advantages of cryosurgery are that the procedure is minimally invasive, it can be repeated, and it can be used to treat men who cannot have surgery or radiation therapy because of their age or other medical problems.
Side effects from cryosurgery include obstruction of urine flow, incontinence, impotence and in very rare cases damage to the rectum. They may occur more often in men who have had radiation to the prostate.