Cryotherapy, also called cryoablation, is a simple, office-based procedure that uses extremely cold liquid nitrogen to destroy breast tumors. Currently the procedure is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and widely used for the treatment of fibroadenomas, a very common type of benign (noncancerous) breast tumor. This effective, established technology has also been used for decades to treat benign and cancerous tumors in kidney, prostate, liver, and other solid organs. It is now undergoing clinical investigation for use in malignant (cancerous) breast tumors. The early results from clinical trials to date have been very encouraging.
The cryoablation procedure is performed by a physician in a comfortable office setting, is relatively painless, and often takes less than 20 minutes. In cryoablation, ultrasound is used to first identify the tumor. Local anesthesia is used to numb the skin and surrounding tissue. Then a small nick is made in the skin and a thin probe (hollow needle) is inserted into the tumor’s center. Afterwards the tumor becomes engulfed in an “ice-ball.” Tumor cells are ablated (or destroyed) during the procedure. You should expect little to no bleeding and at the end of the procedure the skin incision will be closed with just an adhesive Steri-Strip or surgical glue–no stitches necessary!
Because cold acts as an anesthetic, patients experience virtually no pain after the procedure. You should be able to return to work and/or resume normal daily activities immediately. You will have a nontender, palpable mass (an area that can be felt) while the body naturally reabsorbs the destroyed cells over time. (The length of time varies based on tumor size and other factors.) The procedure will not affect the shape and size of your breast and cryoablation does not negatively affect the interpretation of future imaging studies (mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI).