What to Expect From Cervical Cryosurgery

Woman at gynecologist
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Cervical cryosurgery, also referred to as cryotherapy, is a procedure that freezes a section of the cervix using nitrogen gas to destroy the targeted area. It is most often used for the treatment of cervical dysplasia, which describes changes in the cervix that are considered precancerous.

Purpose

Cryosurgery is typically done if one or more small lesions of cervical dysplasia in the lower part of the cervix are identified with a Pap smear or colposcopy. Cryosurgery is an effective treatment for most cases of cervical dysplasia, destroying all of the abnormal cervical tissue more than 85 percent of the time. Because the success rate is not 100 percent, you will need to have follow-up testing with another Pap smear between three to six months after your cryosurgery to ensure success.

Cervical cryosurgery is also sometimes used to treat cervical warts, cervicitis, or inflammation of the cervix.

Contraindications

If your cervical changes are located in the upper section of the cervix, a cone biopsy is recommended rather than cryotherapy.

Your doctor cannot obtain a tissue sample for a biopsy using cryosurgery, so if there is a suspicion of cancer, cryosurgery cannot help in diagnosis. Cryosurgery is not a treatment for cervical cancer, because it only freezes the superficial cells and does not reach or remove deeper tissue.

Procedure

Cryosurgery is performed in your doctor's office while you are awake. You don't need to abstain from food or drink before the procedure. If you are taking any blood thinners, be sure to tell your doctor, as these medications can increase the risk of bleeding.

When it is time for your cryotherapy procedure, you will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on an exam table with your feet in stirrups. You will not need any anesthesia for cryosurgery. Overall, it should will take about 10 to 20 minutes.

Here is what you should expect:

  • Your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to visualize your cervix.
  • A device called a cryoprobe is used to freeze the tissue. The cryoprobe is inserted into your vagina until it firmly covers the abnormal areas of cervical tissue.
  • Next, liquid nitrogen or compressed argon gas at a temperature of about -50 degrees C begins to flow through the cryoprobe to cool it.
  • The metal cryoprobe, when applied to the skin, cools it to about -20 degrees C, freezing and destroying superficial abnormal cervical tissue.
  • The most effective treatment result is obtained by freezing the area for three minutes, letting the cervix thaw, and repeating the treatment for three more minutes.

You may experience a sensation of cold, heat, or slight cramping, but this should resolve right after the procedure is done.

After Care

You can return to most normal activities the day after cryosurgery; however, there are a few things you should take note of for the first two to three weeks following treatment:

  • It is normal to experience a watery discharge for the first few weeks. This is caused by the sloughing of dead cervical tissue.
  • Do not insert anything into the vagina for at least two to three weeks. This means no tampons, douches, or sexual intercourse.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor:

  • Fever over 99 degrees F
  • Bleeding that is heavier than you normally experience during your menstrual cycle
  • Severe or increasing pelvic pain (some slight cramping is normal)
  • A foul smell or yellowish vaginal discharge, which can be a sign of an infection requiring immediate treatment

A Word From Verywell

Cryosurgery can be an important part of cervical cancer prevention. It is relatively risk-free, with rare complications. After cryosurgery, you will need Pap tests every three to six months for a period of time. Once you have had several normal Pap smears in a row, your doctor will give you recommendations for how often you need to have a Pap smear or other screening for cervical cancer.

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