There are many options for treating abnormal cervical cells. One of these treatments is called cervical cryotherapy (also referred to as cervical cryosurgery) and is usually recommended for mild cases. Cryotherapy effectively destroys abnormal cells with a chemical freezing technology.
If your pap smear, also known as pap test, comes back as abnormal, the most likely cause is cervical dysplasia. Cervical dysplasia is a condition of abnormal cellular growth on the cervix, which is the canal between the vagina and uterus. Cervical dysplasia often results from HPV (human papillomavirus), a very common sexually transmitted virus. An HPV test looks for types of HPV that have been linked to cervical cancer. An HPV test can be done on the same cells used for the initial Pap test, called reflex HPV testing.
Abnormal Pap test results do not mean you are at risk for cervical cancer. Cervical dysplasia is usually asymptomatic, it’s important to diagnose and treat the condition to reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Cervical dysplasia can range from mild to severe, and treatments vary depending on the case.
Cervical cryotherapy (also known as cryosurgery of the cervix, cervix cryosurgery) is typically performed as an outpatient procedure in your doctor’s office. It is a nonsurgical procedure that is effective at destroying all of the abnormal cells in 77-96% of cases.
How Cryotherapy Works
When you come in for your cryotherapy treatment, your OB-GYN will ask you to undress from the waist down, much like during a routine pelvic exam and have you lay on your back on the exam table. Your doctor will then use a speculum – a long, metal instrument with narrow, duckbill-shaped paddles – to better access the cervix.
The procedure is performed using a special hollow probe that flows liquid nitrogen, an extremely cold substance. The probe will touch the abnormal area for 2-3 minutes. In some cases, a second round of 2-3 minutes may be needed, or the doctor may freeze the area for a singular period of 5 minutes.
This process may be mildly uncomfortable. The area will feel cold and you may experience mild cramping.
Cryotherapy is considered a very safe procedure. However, there is always a risk of complication and side effects with any medical procedure.
If you experience:
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (more than your normal menstrual period)
- Pelvic pain that worsens over time
- Fever or chills
- Yellow or bad-smelling discharge
You should call your healthcare provider right away, as these symptoms are signs of an infection.
Another risk of cryotherapy is that it may not destroy all of the abnormal cells, especially if there are abnormal cells deeply embedded into the cervical tissue. Further treatment may be necessary, which is why follow-up pap smears are so important.
Cryotherapy RecoveryCryotherapy is a minimally-invasive procedure. Most women can return to their day-to-day activities the same day without much interruption.
After cryotherapy, you should expect some watery discharge for about 2-3 weeks. You can manage this with sanitary pads. You will need to avoid putting anything into your vagina for at least 3 weeks, douches, and vaginal medications unless otherwise instructed and do not use tampons. Abstain from vaginal sexual intercourse during this time.
You will need to schedule follow-up pap smears every 3-6 months, depending on your doctor’s recommendation. After a number of normal consecutive pap smears, you can usually return to your annual pap smear schedule.