What is cervical cryotherapy?

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Cryotherapy of the cervix: Overview

Cryotherapy destroys abnormal tissue on the cervix by freezing it. This treatment destroys some normal tissue along with the abnormal tissue.

Your doctor will put a tool called a speculum into your vagina. It opens the vagina a little bit. A special fluid may be put on your cervix to make the tissue easier to see. During the procedure, a very cold substance, such as liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), circulates through a probe placed next to the abnormal tissue. This freezes the tissue for 2 to 3 minutes. The tissue may be allowed to thaw and then be refrozen for another 2 to 3 minutes. A single freeze treatment for 5 minutes may also be used.

This treatment causes some discomfort. You may feel a sensation of cold and a little cramping. And sometimes a sense of warmth spreads to the upper body and face.

Cryotherapy is not the best treatment if abnormal cells are high in the cervical canal. In that case, another treatment, such as an excisional biopsy of the cervix, is recommended instead.

How can you care for yourself after cryotherapy of the cervix?

Activity

  • On the day of the procedure, you may want to take the afternoon off from work.
  • You can do all of your usual activities.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

Other instructions

  • Use a sanitary pad if you have bleeding.
  • Do not have vaginal sex or place anything in your vagina for 2 to 4 weeks or until your doctor tells you it is okay. Do not douche.
  • Be sure to have regular Pap or human papillomavirus (HPV) tests. Your doctor can tell you how often you need these tests.

How well does cryotherapy of the cervix work?

Cryotherapy is an effective method for destroying abnormal cervical tissue. How well it works depends on the size, depth, and type of abnormal tissue. Treatment destroys all of the abnormal tissue in most cases.

How do you prepare for cryotherapy of the cervix?

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Tell your doctor if:
    • You are having your menstrual period. This procedure usually isn't done during your period. That's because blood cells make it harder for your doctor to see your cervix.
    • You are or might be pregnant. A blood or urine test may be done to see if you are pregnant.
    • You are allergic to any medicines.
    • You are being treated for a vaginal, cervical, or pelvic infection.
  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your procedure. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What are the risks of cryotherapy of the cervix?

The abnormal tissue won't be completely destroyed if the abnormal cells are too deep in the cervical tissue.

After cryotherapy of the cervix: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.
  • You have vaginal discharge that has increased in amount or smells bad.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot drink fluids.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • A fever.
  • You have bright red vaginal bleeding that soaks one or more pads in an hour, or you have large clots.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness or swelling in your leg.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

What can you expect as you recover from cryotherapy of the cervix?

You can probably return to your normal activity level the day after the cryotherapy procedure.

If you have cryotherapy, you will have regular follow-up testing with human papillomavirus (HPV) tests, Pap tests, or colposcopic examinations. Your doctor will tell you what follow-up tests you should have and when you need to have them done.

After cryotherapy

  • You may have a watery vaginal discharge for about 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Do not have vaginal sex or place anything in your vagina for 2 to 4 weeks or until your doctor tells you it is okay. Do not douche.

After cryotherapy of the cervix: Overview

After the procedure, you may have mild cramps for several hours. You may also have a watery vaginal discharge for up to 12 hours. After that, the watery discharge may turn yellow. It can last for 2 to 3 weeks.

If you have bleeding or spotting, you can use a sanitary pad.

How is cryotherapy of the cervix done?

Cryotherapy is usually done at your doctor's office, a clinic, or a hospital as an outpatient procedure. You don't have to spend a night in the hospital.

You will need to take off your clothes below the waist and drape a paper or cloth covering around your waist. You will then lie on your back on an exam table. Your feet will be supported by footrests. Your doctor will place a lubricated tool called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum opens the vagina a little bit. This lets your doctor see the cervix and inside the vagina.

A special fluid may be put on your cervix to make the tissue easier to see.

Your doctor will freeze the tissue with a probe that can get very cold. You may have some cramps during the treatment.

Your doctor may use medicine to numb the cervix (cervical block).

What happens on the day of cryotherapy of the cervix?

  • You may eat or drink as you normally do.
  • You may want to take a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), 30 to 60 minutes before you have the procedure.

At the doctor's office or clinic

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The procedure should take about 20 minutes.

Why is cryotherapy of the cervix done?

Cryotherapy may be done when abnormal Pap or human papillomavirus (HPV) test results have been confirmed by colposcopy. It can treat cell changes on the cervix. But it isn't done if results of endocervical curettage show abnormal tissue high inside the cervical canal.

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