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Cryotherapy is a treatment used for mesothelioma, either as an alternative or adjuvant to the three main treatments of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Cryotherapy freezes cancer cells, freezing and destroying them. Like most living cells, cancer cells cannot survive extreme temperatures. This therapy directs liquid nitrogen or a substance of similar temperature at the tumor.
There are many types of cancer targeted in cryotherapy studies. Research into effectiveness for treating mesothelioma is ongoing. However, some patients have benefited from this innovative therapy. Cryotherapy has also been useful for treating lung cancer in certain patients, including those with cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery, is a treatment that uses extremely cold substances to damage and destroy abnormal cells and tissue. Liquid nitrogen is typically used. This substance reaches temperatures as low as negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Argon gas is also used in cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy can be used to freeze and kill abnormal skin growths, including skin cancer, by applying liquid nitrogen with a swab. However, most cancers have tumors inside the body, making it difficult to use this therapy successfully.
Cryotherapy Use in Mesothelioma
Cryotherapy is used to treat several types of cancers, including skin, eye, kidney, prostate, liver, and lung cancer. Some patients with mesothelioma have been treated with cryotherapy. This is relatively uncommon, however. Research continues on cryotherapy treatments for mesothelioma patients.
One important way cryotherapy may help mesothelioma patients is by providing a less invasive treatment after major surgery. Tumor removal surgery in the chest cavity, including radical surgeries like extrapleural pneumonectomy, are often effective. However, in many cases, the tumors reform. Repeating these invasive surgeries is impractical. Therefore, a minor surgery with cryotherapy may be a viable option.
Cryotherapy may also be useful for mesothelioma patients who could benefit from palliative treatment. If surgery is too risky, less invasive cryotherapy can reduce tumor masses and provide relief from cancer symptoms.
Few hospitals or medical centers currently offer cryotherapy for mesothelioma patients. However, it may be possible to request the treatment since many radiology departments are equipped to perform cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy procedures differ depending on the patient and tumor location. In most cases, the medical team uses an MRI or ultrasound image of the tumor to guide the procedure. An instrument called a cryoprobe, a thin, hollow tube, is inserted through a small incision. With the help of the images, the cryoprobe is guided to the tumor and then delivers liquid nitrogen directly to the tumor.
Images guiding the probe help target the tumor, but also help limit damage to nearby tissue. The procedure is minimally invasive, requiring only a small incision, although multiple probes may be used during the treatment. The frozen tumor is not removed. Instead, destroyed cells are reabsorbed by the body. Cryotherapy is typically performed in the radiology department rather than a surgical environment.
Benefits of Cryotherapy
Many patients may benefit from cryotherapy, although it may not be the right choice for everyone. Compared to traditional surgery, cryotherapy is less invasive. Cryotherapy may be a great option for patients who are not good candidates for traditional surgery due to health concerns. Because the incision is so small, cryotherapy may not even require general anesthesia. Recovery time is short, and there are fewer complications and side effects.
Cryotherapy may also be preferred over chemotherapy and radiation because it targets the tumor precisely. Doctors can apply liquid nitrogen directly to the tumor, avoiding the healthy tissue that surrounds it. With chemotherapy and radiation, healthy tissue is destroyed along with the cancerous tumor.
Risks and Complications
Cryotherapy is relatively safe. However, there are limitations and possible side effects. If the liquid nitrogen is not correctly guided, it can damage healthy tissue. Treatment will damage healthy cells as well as cancer cells, so cryotherapy must be directed with precision. Other potential side effects are minor, including bleeding or infection at the incision site. The patient may also experience post-procedure pain, although it is usually temporary and can be controlled with painkillers.
Cryotherapy has been used to successfully treat lung cancers. However, there is a high risk of complications. In one study, 12 percent of patients experienced a collapsed lung. Some patients experienced respiratory distress, respiratory failure, atrial fibrillation, and a cough with blood. Most patients did not have serious side effects. Others experienced complications that resolved soon after the procedure.
Cryotherapy is an exciting new treatment that may become more standard in treating mesothelioma. It is minimally invasive, with few side effects. This strategy may become more important as research continues the effectiveness of cryotherapy.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.