Cryosurgery for prostate cancer – Novel freezing treatment

Cryosurgery for prostate cancer is a special procedure that uses gases, such as liquid nitrogen or argon/helium, that actually freeze and destroy the cancer. It is also commonly referred to as cryotherapy or cryoablation.

It is not generally a first choice of treatment for a number of reasons, but may be considered if a man’s cancer has recurred.

What to expect

Cryosurgery is usually performed in an operating room under some type of anesthesia and generally takes from 1 to 2 hours.

During the procedure, the doctor uses transrectal ultrasound to guide the placement of hollow needles into the prostate, which are inserted through the skin between the anus and scrotum.

The gases go through the needles and create “ice balls” that destroy the entire prostate gland. This also freezes and damages the nearby nerves. The freezing process is carefully monitored to prevent the urethra from freezing.

A catheter that drains urine from the bladder is typically inserted through a surgical cut in the abdomen before the procedure and remains in place for about three weeks. It is placed there because the prostate often swells after cryosurgery, which may prevent normal urination.

Cryosurgery vs regular surgery


Compared to radical prostatectomy, cryotherapy for prostate cancer is considered to be:

  • Less invasive
  • Less painful


It also generally involves a shorter:

  • Hospital stay (about a day, but many men go home the same day)
  • Recovery period

Unfortunately, there is no long-term data about the effectiveness of cryosurgery for prostate cancer compared to radical prostatectomy. We do know that radiation is more effective than cryosurgery for treating advanced prostate cancer.

Temporary side effects

Potential temporary effects of cryosurgery for prostate cancer can include:

  • Soreness
  • Swelling of the penis and scrotum
  • Blood in the urine for up to 2 days
  • Pain
  • Burning
  • More frequent urination
  • More frequent bowel movements

All of these side effects are expected to get better over time.

Potential long-term side effects


A very small number of men (less than 1%) may need corrective surgery if they develop a fistula, which is an abnormal passageway that develops between the bladder and rectum.


Return to treatments


Finley D, Belldegrun A.  Accessed March 29, 2015.

Bostwick DG, Crawford DE, Higano CS, Roach M, eds. American Cancer Society’s Complete Guide to Prostate Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society Health Promotions; 2005.

The American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer. Accessed March 17, 2015.

US TOO International, Inc. Pathways for new prostate cancer patients. Accessed September 1, 2008.

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