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Cryotherapy for lung cancer

Cryotherapy is also called cryosurgery or cryoablation. It is a way of killing cancer cells by freezing them. In people with advanced lung cancer it can shrink a tumour blocking an airway. This can relieve breathlessness and other symptoms such as a cough, coughing up blood, or a chest infection in the blocked part of the lung.

You have a general anaesthetic or a drug to make you drowsy. Then your doctor puts a flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your throat and into the airway. The doctor puts a probe down the bronchoscope. The probe freezes parts of the tumour and kills the cancer cells to relieve your blockage. The doctor will take out as much of the tumour tissue as possible. But you may cough up more tissue for a few days after this treatment. You can have cryotherapy again if the tumour grows back.

Side effects of cryotherapy

Cryotherapy does not usually cause many side effects. You may have some pain in the area for a few days. Problems in some patients include short term changes in the heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or a chest infection.

 

CR PDF Icon View a summary of treating lung cancer.

 

 

What cryotherapy is

Cryotherapy is also called cryosurgery or cryoablation. It is a way of killing cancer cells by freezing them. Doctors can use cryotherapy as a treatment for people with advanced lung cancer. It is mainly available in specialist hospitals.

Cryotherapy can shrink a tumour that is blocking an airway. This can relieve breathlessness and other symptoms such as a cough, coughing up blood, or a chest infection in the blocked part of the lung.

You can have the treatment again at a later date if the tumour starts to block the airway again.

Your doctor will explain all the possible risks and benefits to you beforehand.

 

Having cryotherapy treatment for lung cancer

You have a general anaesthetic or a drug to make you drowsy. Then your doctor puts a flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your throat and into the airway.

Diagram-showing-a-bronchoscopy

The doctor puts a probe called a cryoprobe down the bronchoscope. The probe freezes part of the tumour. The doctor then allows the area to thaw just enough for the cryoprobe to come away from the tissue. Your doctor may repeat this 2 or 3 times in that area. They then move the cryoprobe along to freeze the next area.

Your doctor repeats the process until they have treated the whole area of cancer. They remove as much of the tissue as possible using forceps or the cryoprobe.

If the tumour starts to grow again and causes another blockage, you can have cryotherapy treatment again.

You usually find that your symptoms improve over a couple of days following the treatment.

 

Side effects of cryotherapy for lung cancer

You may cough up some tumour tissue for 1 or 2 days after this treatment, which can be unpleasant.

The treatment area can be painful and you will probably need to take painkillers for a few days after your treatment.

Other possible side effects include

  • Coughing up blood for a short time afterwards
  • Changes in your heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A chest infection. 

These effects are usually short term and get better over a few days.

A very rare complication is the development of a fistula. An oesophageal fistula is a hole joining the airway and the food pipe (oesophagus).

 

How well cryotherapy works

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) assessed cryotherapy for advanced lung cancer. They found that it helped to relieve symptoms in more than 8 out of 10 people treated.

NICE say that it is important for you to know all the risks before you agree to the treatment. They say that your doctor should also tell you about any other treatment options open to you. And NICE has asked doctors to continue to monitor the results of cryotherapy for lung cancer.

 

Getting more information about cryotherapy

We have more information on this website about cryotherapy treatment. You can ask your doctor or specialist nurse for written information. You can also phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Our lung cancer organisations page has details of people who can give information about cryotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our lung cancer reading list has information about books and leaflets about lung cancer treatments.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 31 March 2014