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What is cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy or liquid nitrogen is used every day in our dermatology office.  Sometimes we refer to this as cryosurgery.  Liquid nitrogen is very cold and boils at -196 degree Celsius.  Liquid nitrogen is stored in a large dewar that we use to fill our cryogun daily.  The cryogun is what we use when we spray the liquid nitrogen on the skin.

What is it used for?

Cryotherapy can be used to remove both benign, pre-malignant, and sometimes even malignant lesions from the skin.

Examples of some benign growths that respond well to cryotherapy are warts, skin tags and seborrheic keratoses, the latter of which patients here me call “barnacles of wisdom” during skin cancer screenings.

An example of a pre-malignant growth are actinic keratoses.  Actinic keratoses are pre-malignant spots that show up on sun exposed areas of the skin and can sometimes turn into squamous cell carcinoma.  When there are just a few actinic keratoses on the body cryotherapy is a good option.  However, when there are numerous, we typically recommend other treatment options.

Examples of some malignant growths that could be treated with cryotherapy include superficial basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma in-situ.

Side effects

Side effects are typically cosmetic such as changes in the pigment of the skin.  We call this hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation.  These color changes on the skin can be permanent.  Temporary side effects include some redness and swelling after treatment, as well as possible formation of a blister.  Post-cryosurgery care is typically Vaseline or Aquaphor.

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