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cover of book Mayo Clinic on Prostate Health
A selection from:
Mayo Clinic on Prostate Health

Continuing from Chapter 7 (go to previous part)
What Are Your Options?

Freezing cancer cells (cryotherapy)

Another way to kill prostate cancer is to freeze the prostate -- almost like turning it into an iceball. Doctors use a similar approach to kill warts, dipping a swab into a tank of supercooled liquid nitrogen, then dabbing the swab onto the wart, which eventually dies and falls off. Prostate tissue dies in the same way and is absorbed and then eliminated by your body.

Called cryotherapy, the procedure involves inserting 5 to 7 thin metal rods, each about 6 inches long, through the perineum and into the prostate. An ultrasound probe in the rectum helps your doctor position the rods. Once the rod tips are in place, liquid nitrogen is released into the rods, where it circulates and plunges the temperature to about -374 F. As the tissue freezes, the formation and expansion of ice crystals within the cancerous cells cause them to rupture and die. To keep the urethra from freezing along with your prostate, a catheter is placed inside the urethra and filled with a warming solution.

The entire procedure takes about 2 hours/ with most of the time used to carefully position the rods and about 30 minutes to freeze the prostate.

You can expect to stay in the hospital 1 to 2 days. You'll probably be able to return to your normal activities in a couple of weeks. However, it will take your body about 9 months to a year to shed the dead cells. The procedure may have to be repeated.

Are you a candidate for cryotherapy?

• Your cancer is confined to the prostate. • You're not healthy enough to withstand surgery or radiation. • You don't want surgery or radiation. What are the advantages? • Cryotherapy controls cancer confined to the prostate in about 80 percent of men.
• The procedure requires only 1 or 2 days in the hospital and can sometimes be done on an outpatient basis.
• There's very little blood loss.
• Recovery time is short/ just 1 or 2 weeks.

What are the disadvantages?

• The procedure is fairly new and not widely used.
• Cryotherapy doesn't always kill all the cancer cells on the first try. It may have to be repeated.
• You have a 90 percent chance of impotence developing. The nerve bundles that control erections can freeze and die.
• You may have trouble urinating for several weeks afterward. The freezing makes the prostate temporarily swell/ which squeezes the urethra.
• You'll have temporary bruising and soreness where the rods are inserted.
• Though the short-term results look encouraging, long-term survival rates appear lower than with surgery or radiation.

[The chapter continues with "Answers to your questions"]


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