Cryotherapy: Everything You Need to Know

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Cryotherapy—also known as cryosurgery—uses freezing temperatures to destroy abnormal cells or tissues.

Cryotherapy can be performed externally for skin conditions—like plantar warts and molluscum contagiosum or more serious conditions like basal and squamous cell carcinomas. It can also be performed internally for tumors.

This article will cover cryotherapy's uses, its purpose, and what to expect during the procedure. It will also discuss contraindications and potential risks.


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What Is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy is typically an outpatient procedure for destroying abnormal cells and tissues. It can treat the skin or tumors inside the body.

Nitrogen and argon gas—which are extremely cold—are sprayed or applied to the desired area. The freeze and thawing cycle causes the cells or tissues to die. When this process is repeated, there is more success in cellular death.


Cryotherapy should not apply to skin conditions that are undiagnosed, have undefined edges, or tissue that needs to go in for pathology review.

Other contraindications for cryotherapy include conditions that exposure to the cold has worsened. These include:

Cryotherapy may not work for areas with poor blood circulation because the cold causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow. When there is poor circulation to begin with, cryotherapy could cause unintended tissue necrosis (tissue death).

Potential Risks

Cryotherapy is generally considered a safe, non-invasive treatment for many different conditions. However, with every procedure or surgery, there are always potential risks.

The dangers of cryotherapy will vary from person to person based on their overall health and the specific cryotherapy treatment they are receiving.

Potential risks of cryotherapy include:

Purpose of Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy may help people who have certain skin conditions and cancers. It can apply externally to the skin and internally for tumors.

Cryotherapy is a great option for people who cannot have surgery due to other medical conditions or age.

It can work in conjunction with other treatments.

How to Prepare

External cryotherapy (on the skin) requires very little preparation.

Internal cryotherapy requires general surgery preparation. A healthcare provider will provide instructions on what those circumstances require.


The location of the procedure depends on the type of cryotherapy:

External cryotherapy is an outpatient procedure that a healthcare provider can perform in their office.

Internal cryotherapy takes place in a hospital setting and may require an overnight stay.

What to Wear

For cryotherapy for the skin, wear clothing that makes the indicated spot easy to access. Some healthcare providers may have their patients change into gowns.

Food and Drink

For external cryotherapy, you will not need to change what you eat or drink before the procedure.

Internal cryotherapy will likely require sedation or anesthesia, so you'll need to fast before the procedure. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions on fasting times.


Internal cryotherapy may require patients to stop taking blood thinners before the procedure. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

What to Expect Day of Surgery

There is very little to do to prepare for cryotherapy. This is one of the greatest benefits of this procedure.

If someone needs internal cryotherapy, preparations will be similar to those of general surgery. External cryotherapy can be as simple as visiting a healthcare provider's office.

During the Surgery

The procedure experience varies based on whether it is external or internal:

  • External cryotherapy: A healthcare provider will use a cold spray or a cotton-tipped applicator with liquid nitrogen during external cryotherapy. They will then place the applicator or spray on the area that requires treatment. The time that treating the area takes will depend on the condition. It can range from five to 90 seconds and may need multiple treatments to kill the tissues entirely. Those undergoing this treatment may experience a burning sensation.
  • Internal cryotherapy: A healthcare provider will make a small incision in the skin and insert a cryoprobe. Ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will then guide the probe to the correct area. The healthcare provider will then place the cryoprobe on the tumor or area that needs treatment and freezes it.

After the Surgery

Immediately after external cryotherapy surgery, you can move around can leave.

However, with internal cryotherapy, your healthcare provider may need to wake you up from any sedation and monitor you. This will vary from case to case, and your healthcare provider will discuss it with you.


After external cryotherapy surgeries, you can resume physical activity right away. You may need to keep your skin protected with bandages or ointments, which your healthcare provider will describe to you before you leave your appointment.

After internal cryotherapy surgeries, you may need to stay in the hospital overnight or for longer.

There will be follow-up appointments for the healthcare provider to:

  • Look at the treatment area to determine the success of the cryotherapy
  • Determine if there were any complications
  • Decide if additional treatments are necessary


External cryotherapy for the skin can cause redness, blistering, and swelling. Clear fluid may ooze from the wound for five to 14 days until it forms a scab. The scab will fall off on its own.

The healing time for cryotherapy affecting the head or neck area is typically two to six weeks. For other areas of the body, this may take longer.

Possible Future Surgeries

Cryotherapy may require multiple sessions, ranging from one to three. Certain conditions, such as warts, seborrheic keratosis, and basal and squamous cell carcinoma, are more likely to require more session


Cryotherapy is a type of treatment that uses extreme cold to freeze abnormal cells and tissues. It can treat various skin conditions such as warts, hemangiomas, and skin cancer. Cryotherapy can also work internally to kill tumors. Recovery from cryotherapy is minimal and generally well tolerated.

Pregnant women, children, people with severe high blood pressure, and people with heart conditions should not try cryotherapy.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Clebak KT, Mendez-Miller M, Croad J. Cutaneous cryosurgery for common skin conditionsAmerican Family Physician. 2020;101(7):399-406.

  2. National Cancer Institute. Cryosurgery to treat cancer.

  3. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Cryosurgery.

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.