Cryotherapy, also known as cryoablation, is a treatment option for kidney cancer. It uses a liquefied gas, most commonly liquid nitrogen or argon, to kill tumour cells by freezing them. The liquefied gas reaches the tumour through a needle. In order to know the subtype of the tumour, a biopsy is generally performed before starting the treatment (Fig. 1).
Usually cryotherapy is performed through the skin and the doctor uses ultrasound or a CT scan to guide the needle. Cryotherapy can also be performed during laparoscopic or open surgery. During the procedure the temperature of the kidney tissue and surrounding organs is carefully checked by thermo sensors.
Your doctor may suggest cryotherapy if you have a small kidney tumour (less than 4 cm) and surgery is not the best option for you. This may be related to your age or any medical conditions which make surgery dangerous for you.
Cryotherapy is an effective and safe treatment for a small kidney tumour but there is a risk that tumour cells are left in the kidney after the procedure. This means that the chance of recurrence is higher than after surgery.
While the procedure is safe, there are risks of complications. The most common complications include bleeding and a build-up of blood inside the kidney known as perinephric haematoma. During treatment, your ureter, spleen, liver, or bowel may be injured. You could also experience paraesthesia around the treated area, which is a prickling or tingling sensation of the skin.
After cryotherapy, follow-up visits are scheduled every 3 months. During these, CT scan or MRI are used to monitor your kidney and detect possible tumour recurrence on time.
Cryotherapy can be performed more than once, in case of tumour recurrence or if the first treatment was unsuccessful.