Prostate Cancer

Cryosurgery for prostate cancer

Cryosurgery (or cryoablation) is still an experimental treatment, and trials are in progress to monitor its safety and effectiveness. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued favourable guidance but treatment is only available in specialist centres in the UK and only as part of a clinical trial. 

Cryosurgery uses extreme cold, in combination with ultrasound and temperature monitoring, to destroy cancer cells in and around the prostate gland. During cryosurgery the patient is given a general or epidural anaesthetic. A thin catheter that circulates warm fluid is place in the urethra to protect it from cold temperatures. Next, six to eight slender cryoprobes are inserted through a small incision into the prostate gland. Liquid argon is circulated at the tips of the cryoprobes. This begins the cooling process, during which the cryoprobes freeze tissue symmetrically round the probe tip, eventually freezing the entire prostate gland. Tissue that reaches minus 40C is destroyed. After approximately ten minutes the surgeon completes the first freeze cycle, and then administers another treatment to help ensure that all the cancer cells are killed. Following cryosurgery the patient may spend a night in hospital or return home the same day. The patient goes home with a catheter in place to help with urination the week following treatment.

Some patients experience mild swelling or soreness after cryosurgery, and long-term complications may include impotence, incontinence, and rectal injury. Despite its use in the USA it remains a new therapy in the UK and it is not widely available on the NHS. At present, funding comes partly from the NHS and partly from charitable donations. Two of the men who describe their experiences chose cryosurgery as a first line of treatment for their prostate cancer, (although one of these men had already had an orchidectomy for another problem). However, cryosurgery may also be used when radiation therapy has failed, and when treatment options are very limited. One man in this situation also describes his experience of cryosurgery in the United Kingdom.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated March 2015.



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