Cryotherapy at a Glance
- One type of treatment to prevent cervical cancer
- Safe and effective
Most of the time, abnormal cervical cells heal without treatment. But sometimes, they can develop into cancer. Treatments for precancerous abnormal cells are highly effective at preventing cervical cancer. That is why it is so important to have regular Pap tests and to follow up on any abnormal results.
Whether you have been told that you need cryotherapy, or are a concerned friend, family member, or partner, you may have many questions. Here are the answers to some questions women commonly ask about cryotherapy.
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What Is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy ("cryo") is a treatment for abnormal cells on the cervix. It is done by applying a very cold chemical to the cervix to freeze the cells. This allows new, normal cells to grow back later in the same area.
Cryo is also used to remove warts and other growths on other parts of the body.
How Effective Is Cryotherapy?
Cryo cures the problem about 85–90 percent of the time. It is less likely to cure the problem if the abnormal cells are deep in the canal of the cervix.
If your treatment does not cure your problem, you may have cryo again, or your health care provider may recommend another treatment.
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
- You lie down on an exam table in the same position used to have a Pap test.
- A speculum — a metal or plastic instrument — is inserted into your vagina to separate the walls.
- Usually, the health care provider will perform colposcopy before cryo. Colposcopy allows your health care provider to see the abnormal areas on your cervix more clearly.
- The health care provider then inserts an instrument called a cryoprobe that rapidly freezes the abnormal tissue on the surface of the cervix.
Cryo takes about five minutes.
Is Cryotherapy Painful?
Most women feel mild cramping or pressure during cryotherapy. Some also feel a cold sensation in their vaginas. A few women have no discomfort at all.
What Should I Do to Prepare for Cryotherapy?
Try to schedule cryo for shortly after the end of your period. This will give your cervix time to heal before you have your period again.
You may want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever about an hour before your procedure to reduce the chance of discomfort. Ask your health care provider in advance to recommend a pain reliever.
What Can I Expect After the Procedure?
After cryo, you will have a watery discharge that will last from a few days to several weeks. This is caused by the body getting rid of the dead cells on your cervix. The discharge may be extremely heavy and may be mixed with some blood. Try to drink lots of fluids to replace the water you will be losing from the frozen tissue.
Your health care provider may advise you to NOT douche or use tampons for several weeks after having cryotherapy.
Your health care provider will help you decide how long you should wait to have sex again. In general, women should wait
2–3 weeks after having cryo before having vaginal intercourse. This allows the cervix time to heal and reduces the risk of infection. You can enjoy other sex play that does not involve inserting anything into your vagina.
Continue taking your medications as usual — including the birth control pill. You can also continue to use any other method of birth control.
Is Cryotherapy Safe?
Most women do not have any serious side effects after cryo. Rare complications of cryo include
- heavy bleeding
- a flare-up of a pelvic infection
- freeze burns on the wall of the vagina
You should call your health care provider if you have
- abdominal pain
- fever or chills
- vaginal discharge that smells bad
- heavy bleeding
Cryo should not affect your fertility, unless a very rare complication occurs.
Cryotherapy During Pregnancy
Health care providers usually try to wait until after birth to treat a pregnant woman's abnormal cervical cells. Delaying treatment is usually safe because it generally takes a long time for abnormal cervical cells to become cancerous.
Are There Other Treatments for Abnormal Cervical Cells?
Yes. Other treatments include
- laser — A laser beam is used to destroy or cut away abnormal tissue.
- LEEP — A small electrical wire loop is used to cut away abnormal tissue.
- cone biopsy — A cone-shaped wedge is cut out of the cervix. It is tested in a laboratory. Cone biopsy is used to diagnose and treat abnormalities that go deeper into the cervix. It is usually performed in an operating room under anesthesia.
In some cases, if the abnormality is mild, it is possible to just continue to check the problem carefully with more Pap tests. The problem could stay the same, get worse, or go away on its own. Treatment may be needed later if the problem does not go away on its own. Your health care provider can discuss the best plan for you.
Where Can I Get Cryotherapy?
You can get cryotherapy at many Planned Parenthood health centers, or at a clinic, or private health care provider.