Emergency Room Wait Times
Home > Healthy Living > Health Library > Cryosurgery for Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer
Cryosurgery is the process of destroying a skin cancer (lesion) by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is applied to the lesion using a cotton applicator stick or an aerosol spray.
The skin may first be numbed with a local anesthetic. The liquid nitrogen is applied or sprayed onto the cancer and the immediate surrounding tissue. The application may be repeated. An antibiotic dressing may be applied to the wound.
Cryosurgery is often used to destroy precancerous skin lesions such as actinic keratoses but is rarely used alone (monotherapy) to treat skin cancer.
An area where skin tissue has been destroyed by freezing with liquid nitrogen usually heals in 3 to 6 weeks. After the procedure, keep the wound clean and dry. A scab will form over the area.
Cryosurgery is used more often for precancerous growths such as actinic keratoses than for skin cancer.
Cryosurgery is done to destroy skin cancer if:
Cryosurgery is the treatment of choice for superficial actinic keratoses. And it often is successful in treating small lesions of squamous cell carcinoma in situ.footnote 1
If cryosurgery is used to treat skin cancer, there is a small chance that the skin cancer will return after treatment. One study that followed people for 5 years after treatment found that cryosurgery had a cure rate for 99 out of 100 people.footnote 2
The risks of cryosurgery include:
Cryosurgery is an efficient procedure if there are many skin cancers that need to be destroyed or treated.
Cryosurgery wounds heal slowly and can be painful.
Cryosurgery destroys tissue, so there is no way to obtain a sample (biopsy) for diagnosis.
Habif TP (2010). Premalignant and malignant nonmelanoma skin tumors. In Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 801–846. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.
Carucci JA, et al. (2012). Basal cell carcinoma. In LA Goldman et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1294–1303. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Current as of: December 19, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAmy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Current as of:
December 19, 2018
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website, and its associated websites, is provided as a benefit to the local community, and the Internet community in general; it does not constitute medical advice. We try to provide quality information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this website and its associated sites. As medical advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each patient and healthcare is constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of a competent physician. Furthermore, in providing this service, Adventist HealthCare does not condone or support all of the content covered in this site. As an Adventist health care organization, Adventist HealthCare acts in accordance with the ethical and religious directives for Adventist health care services.
Find an Adventist HealthCare affiliated doctor by calling our FREE physician referral service at 800-642-0101 or by searching our online physician directory.
Set Your Location
Setting your location helps us to show you nearby providers and locations based on your healthcare needs.