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Cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery or cryoablation, kills cancer cells by exposing them to extreme cold. Certain mesothelioma specialists have had success using cryotherapy in combination with other forms of cancer treatment.

During cryotherapy, a doctor inserts a long, needle-like instrument called a cryoprobe into the patient’s body to target solid tumors. Super-cooled nitrogen or argon flows through the cryoprobe, causing the cancer tissue around the tip of the probe to freeze.

The doctor freezes and thaws the cancer tissue repeatedly, which damages cancer cells and interrupts blood flow to the tumor. Guided by ultrasound imaging, the doctor can destroy cancer tissue while leaving most healthy tissues undamaged. Cryotherapy can also be performed by spraying tumors with super-cooled nitrogen.

Cryotherapy Facts

  • Used to treat localized tumors
  • Causes few side effects and requires short recovery time
  • May be used to treat mesothelioma reoccurrence
  • Can also shrink large tumors to relieve symptoms

After cancer cells are killed by cryotherapy, they are gradually broken down by the immune system and reabsorbed, which may stimulate the immune system to hunt for other cancer cells elsewhere in the body. Healthy tissue may eventually regenerate in the treated area.

Because the cryoprobe only requires a small incision, cryotherapy can be administered in a radiology room rather than an operating room, and the procedure usually takes less than an hour. Doctors have used cryotherapy to treat cancer for more than a century, and advances in modern technology have made it one of the safest ways to treat localized tumors.

Cryotherapy for Mesothelioma

Doctors use cryotherapy to treat several types of cancer, but its effectiveness for mesothelioma is still being tested.

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In many cases, mesothelioma cells are too widely dispersed for a localized treatment such as cryotherapy to target them all. Some oncologists maintain that when mesothelioma has spread to more than two locations, it is highly likely that the patient has many other microscopic metastases that would prevent this therapy from effectively curing the cancer.

  • Many hospitals do not yet offer this treatment specifically for mesothelioma, but some facilities do provide it to mesothelioma patients upon a radiologist’s approval. The UCLA Medical Center is one such facility that has treated mesothelioma patients with cryotherapy.
  • Renowned mesothelioma oncologist Dr. Robert Cameron is also investigating the procedure for mesothelioma and promotes cryotherapy research at the Pacific Mesothelioma Center.

There are three main ways doctors use cryotherapy in mesothelioma treatment:

Before Surgery

Before performing a major tumor-removing surgery, doctors often try to shrink tumors using other types of cancer therapy. The most common neoadjuvant therapies are chemotherapy and radiation, but some doctors have tested cryotherapy for this purpose in clinical trials.

After Surgery

Though multimodal treatment plans are designed to remove all visible tumor growth through surgery and then kill remaining cancer cells with other therapies, mesothelioma tumors often grow back months or years later. Rather than putting a patient through another aggressive surgery, doctors can treat small tumor reoccurrences with cryotherapy, which puts much less strain on the body.

Symptom Relief

Cryotherapy can relieve the pain associated with mesothelioma by shrinking tumors that press against the lungs and other organs. Cryotherapy is valuable as a palliative treatment option because it carries a very low risk of complications or side effects.

Side Effects and Complications

Unlike many other cancer treatments, this therapy causes very few side effects. It is less invasive than open surgery and requires a much shorter recovery time. Most patients are able to resume their normal schedules as soon as 24 hours after the procedure is completed.

Because treatment is delivered directly to the tumors, there is little risk the healthy surrounding tissues will be damaged. One 2007 study found 81 percent of patients with diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and colorectal cancer were treated without any damage to adjacent tissues or organs.

Rare complications for pleura mesothelioma patients include a collapsed lung or fluid buildup near the lung.

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Registered Nurse and Patient Advocate

Karen Selby joined in 2009. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank before becoming a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. Karen has assisted surgeons with thoracic surgeries such as lung resections, lung transplants, pneumonectomies, pleurectomies and wedge resections. She is also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators.

Walter Pacheco, Managing Editor at
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5 Cited Article Sources

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, October 26). Cryoablation for cancer. Retrieved from:
  2. Cancer Research UK. (2015, September 3). Cryotherapy. Retrieved from:
  3. Tuncali, K. et al. (2007, July). MRI-Guided Percutaneous Cryotherapy for Soft-Tissue and Bone Metastases: Initial Experience. Retrieved from:
  4. National Cancer Institute. (2003, September 10). Cryosurgery in Cancer Treatment. Retrieved from:
  5. Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. (n.d.). Mesothelioma research topics. Retrieved from:

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Last Modified May 31, 2019

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