Prostate Cancer Overview

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Treating Prostate Cancer TOPICS

Cryosurgery for prostate cancer

Cryosurgery is sometimes used to treat early stage prostate cancer by freezing the cells with cold metal probes (hollow needles). It is used only for prostate cancer that has not spread, but it may not be a good option for men with large prostate glands or large tumors.

The probes are placed through the skin between the anus and the scrotum. This method requires spinal or epidural anesthesia (where the lower half of your body is numbed) or general anesthesia (where you are asleep). Cold gases are then passed through the probes, which creates ice balls that destroy the prostate gland.

During the procedure, warm salt water is circulated through a catheter that has been placed into the bladder through the penis to keep the urethra (the tube that empties the bladder) from freezing. The catheter is needed to drain the bladder after surgery, and is removed a few weeks later.

You may need to stay in the hospital for a day, but many patients can leave the same day.

Compared to surgery or radiation treatment, doctors know much less about how well this method works in the long run. For this reason, most doctors do not include cryosurgery among the first options they recommend for treating prostate cancer.

Possible side effects of cryosurgery

After the procedure, there will be some bruising and soreness in the area where the probes were inserted. You may have some blood in the urine for the first few days. Short-term swelling of the penis and scrotum after cryosurgery is also common. Freezing may also damage the bladder and intestines. This can cause pain, a burning sensation, and the need to empty the bladder and bowels often. These problems usually improve with time.

Freezing damages nerves near the prostate and often leads to erection problems (impotence). Problems controlling urine (incontinence) occur less often.

Compared with a radical prostatectomy, there is often less loss of blood, a shorter hospital stay, shorter recovery time, and less pain. Erection problems, though, are more common.

More details about cryosurgery for prostate cancer can be found in our document Prostate Cancer.


Last Medical Review: 08/27/2013
Last Revised: 02/25/2014