Prostate cancer is a disease of the male reproductive system. It is the second most common type of cancer among men in the U.S.
An estimated 1 in every 7 men will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime, but developing the disease is rare before the age of 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66, and the majority of patients are diagnosed after that age. In many cases, patients are only diagnosed during an autopsy after a death related to some other cause.
After the diagnosis and staging of the disease, physicians determine a choice of treatment based on patients’ age and expected lifespan, additional severe health conditions, patients’ and physicians’ options and opinions about each treatment option and its possible side effects, as well as probability of curing the cancer. Prostate cancer treatment options include expectant management (watchful waiting) or active surveillance, surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, vaccine treatment, bone-directed treatment, and cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy as a Treatment Option
Cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery or cryoablation, is a type of treatment used in many types of cancer and other diseases. In patients with prostate cancer, cryotherapy consists of freezing the cancerous cells in the prostate. “Most doctors do not use cryosurgery as the first treatment for prostate cancer,” the American Cancer Society states on its website, but it can be an option for “men with low risk early-stage prostate cancer who cannot have surgery or radiation therapy.”
Cryotherapy is less invasive than radical prostatectomy surgery, and related to smaller loss of blood, shorter hospital stay, shorter recovery period, and less pain.
During the procedure, a transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) is used to guide several hollow probes (needles) through the skin between the anus and scrotum and into the prostate. Then, ice balls are created with very cold gases passed through the needles in order to destroy the prostate. “To be sure the prostate is destroyed without too much damage to nearby tissues, the doctor carefully watches the ultrasound images during the procedure.” The patient does not feel any pain since the lower half of the body is numbed with a spinal or epidural anesthesia, or the patient is put to sleep under general anesthesia. Physicians also place a catheter in the urethra during the procedure to circulate warm saltwater and prevent it from freezing.
Benefits and Risks of Cryotherapy
There isn’t much information about the long-term effectiveness of cryotherapy, but it is known to be less effective than radiation therapy. However, the cryotherapy is able to freeze and kill the cancer cells in the prostate. It is particularly indicated as primary treatment in cases of early-stage cancer confined to the prostate or as salvage therapy, after other cancer treatment to stop the growth of recurrent prostate cancer. The side effects of the treatment are usually worse in patients who previously underwent radiation therapy. Patients often experience soreness, swelling of the penis or scrotum and blood in urine right after the procedure.
“Freezing often damages the nerves near the prostate that control erections. Erectile dysfunction is more common after cryosurgery than after radical prostatectomy,” the Cancer Society states. “Urinary incontinence (having problems controlling urine) is rare in men who have cryosurgery as their first treatment for prostate cancer, but it is more common in men who have already had radiation therapy.”
Note: Prostate Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.