Cervical cryosurgery is an outpatient surgical procedure performed to ablate abnormal tissue in the cervix, killing the cells so they cannot continue reproducing. This procedure is most commonly performed on patients with what is known as cervical dysplasia, a development of abnormal cellular growth in the cervix that can precede cancer. The procedure is very low risk and safe and when it is over, the patient can usually leave almost immediately.
This procedure is recommended when a pap smear reveals the presence of abnormal cells and is confirmed with a colposcopy, a procedure where the cervix is visualized and a larger sample of cells is taken. In cervical cryosurgery, a speculum is used to hold the walls of the vagina open and a specialized probe is introduced. Liquid nitrogen flows through the probe to bring the temperature to well below freezing and the probe is applied to the area of concern. The probe is held in place for several minutes, and the freezing may be repeated to confirm that all of the abnormal cells have been hit during the cervical cryosurgery.
While cells are hardy, they cannot withstand extreme cold. The cervical cryosurgery effectively destroys the abnormal cells. The results of the procedure will be confirmed in a follow-up appointment where another biopsy is taken to look for any remaining cells. A pathologist will confirm that the doctor successfully killed the abnormal cells. The patient will need to be monitored for life for the development of additional cellular changes in and around the cervix.
During a cervical cryosurgery, the patient commonly experiences cramping and may feel uncomfortable. After the procedure, some bleeding is normal. There is also a small risk of infection and it is important to report any side effects experienced, as they can be signs of an infection. Another potential complication is cervical stenosis, a narrowing of the cervix. Stenosis can lead to painful menstruation and may make it difficult for the patient to have a vaginal birth.
While the cells removed in a cervical cryosurgery are called precancerous, having this procedure does not mean the patient has cancer. The cells are removed because they are a cause for concern and they could become cancerous in the future, not because of an immediate worry about cancer. While patients may be worried when they learn that they have abnormal cells in their bodies, early treatment with procedures like this can greatly reduce the risks of developing cancer later in life.