Cryotherapy is a form of medical therapy that uses extremely low temperatures of about -110 degrees Celsius to help the body heal from physical exertion. Normally, this practice is done in a cryotherapy chamber that encloses the entire body from the neck down, but the same technology can be localized to a specific body part like the cervix.
Cervical cryotherapy is used when there is a suspicion about the presence of precancerous cells in the cervix. Such cells can be identified through a pap smear test and later confirmed through a colposcopy. If the precancerous cells are found in the lower part of the cervix, a cervical cryotherapy can be used. But it cannot be done if the cells are detected further up the cervix.
How is it done?
Since the whole process is an outpatient procedure, you don't have to stay in the hospital. Rather, it can be done at the doctor’s office or a local clinic. Anaesthesia will not be necessary as you will be awake during the entire procedure but sometimes you are allowed to take some pain medication. This does not mean that there will be any pain but it is supposed to reduce cramping during the procedure.
The process begins as a regular pap smear test where you take off your clothes and lie back on the examination table with your feet elevated by the stirrups. Then a speculum is inserted into the vagina which is a lubricated tool that gently spreads the walls of the vagina apart to allow access to the cervix. A colposcope is then used to examine the inside of the cervix and identify the areas with the precancerous cells.
A cryoprobe is then inserted through the vagina which is the instrument of the entire procedure. A cryoprobe is a metal probe which is cooled either using liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide to temperatures of about -50 degrees Celsius. This probe is then held against the part of the cervix with the precancerous cells for about 3 minutes before removing. A period of about 5 minutes is left for thawing and then the process is repeated until all the required areas are covered.
Usually, the entire process takes about 10 minutes although it may vary depending on the area covered by precancerous cells.
Why is it done?
Exposure to the sub-zero temperatures destroy the precancerous cells which are identified in the pap smear and colposcopy. Afterwards, new and healthy cells are generated to replace the damaged ones in the procedure to avoid the development of cervical cancer.
What to expect after cervical cryotherapy?
The procedure is generally safe with minimum side-effects. But several women have experienced:
- Cramping when the cryoprobe is held against the cervix but this feeling goes away afterwards.
- Dizziness after the procedure upon standing up, which is why you should not drive yourself home after the surgery.
- Some watery vaginal discharge after the procedure, so it’s advisable to carry some pads with you.
Care after cervical cryotherapy
Your gynaecologist should conduct regular check-ups for few weeks after the procedure to ensure that all the precancerous cells are destroyed. After the procedure, it is not advisable to have sex for at least 2 weeks or practice douching.