What Is Cervical Cryosurgery?

What to Expect When Getting This Procedure

Woman at gynecologist
Jekaterina Nikitina/ GettyImages

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.

Risks and Contraindications

There is a risk of bleeding, infection, pain, or discharge after the procedure. There is also a chance that an area of dysplasia (pre-cancer) could be missed or left behind, so cryosurgery is only an option if your doctor is certain that dysplasia is very localized and has been well identified.

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.

Before the Procedure

If you need cryosurgery, your doctor will explain your Pap smear or colposcopy results. You may need some additional testing to confirm that you don't have advanced dysplasia or cervical cancer. If you are taking any blood thinners, be sure to tell your doctor, as these medications can increase the risk of bleeding with this procedure.

Timing

You should expect the procedure to take about 10 to 20 minutes. But the whole process, from signing in until you get home, may take several hours.

Location

Generally, cryosurgery is done in your doctor's office. It can also be done in a dedicated procedure suite in the clinic or hospital.

What to Wear

You can wear whatever is comfortable. You will be asked to undress from the waist down for your procedure.

Food and Drink

You do not need to fast or abstain from food or drink prior to your procedure.

Cost and Health Insurance

Cryosurgery is generally covered by most health insurance plans, although you may want to confirm whether that is so and whether you have to pay a portion of the cost. If you are paying out-of-pocket, you can expect the procedure to cost between $2,000 to $5,000, depending on how extensive the area you need treatment for is and your geographic location.

What to Bring

Be sure to bring your insurance card, a form of identification, and a method of payment in case you are responsible for a co-pay for your procedure.

During the Procedure

Cryosurgery is performed while you are awake and without anesthesia. 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.

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.

Complications

While it is rare, you may experience bleeding, an infection, or persistent pain. More serious complications include the development of scars or ulcerations after the procedure.

Your doctor or nurse will let you know how much bleeding you should expect in the days and weeks after the procedure. You may soak several sanitary pads, and this can vary based on how many areas were treated and how large they were.

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
  • Blisters, bumps, or ulcers

Follow-Up

Cryosurgery is typically planned for complete removal of cervical dysplasia. After the procedure, your doctor will recommend that you resume regular Pap smears and may suggest an increased frequency.

If there is evidence that you have pre-cancerous cells or cervical dysplasia after you have already had cryosurgery, you may need a more extensive or invasive procedure to remove concerning tissue. You are also likely to have a biopsy and imaging studies to determine whether there is any spread of cancerous tissue.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources