Each year over 60,000 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer in the USA.1
Today, kidney tumors are often found
early when they are still small. As a result, survival rates are very high. As with all cancer, the sooner it is treated the greater the chances for cure.
Kidney tumors that are discovered early can be successfully treated without surgically removing all or part of the kidney. Advances in medical technology now allow physicians to
ablate (destroy) the tumor in the body, thereby reducing both the risks and the long recovery from open surgery. Cryoablation (also called cryosurgery, cryotherapy or just cryo) is a treatment for small kidney masses that ablates the tumors by freezing the cancerous tissue. Here are some frequently asked questions about kidney cryoablation:
What does "cryoablation" mean?
Cryoablation comes from two ancient words: Cryo is the Greek word for cold and ablation is the Latin word for destroying tissue. In other words, cryoablation means destroying tissue with extreme cold.
What is the procedure like?
After anesthesia is administered, one or more slender needles called cryoprobes are inserted into or near the tumor. The doctor uses imaging technology such as ultrasound or CT scans to guide the cryoprobe placement and verify that the tip is precisely positioned.
Once each cryoprobe is in place, a cryogen is circulated inside the cryoprobe to create a very cold iceball at the tip. The iceball encompasses the entire tumor plus a safety margin past the tumor edges. When the correct low temperature is reached, the doctor thaws the iceball and the probes are removed.
How does ice destroy cells and what is left?
Lethal ice destroys tumors with a combination of effects. Simply put, freezing dries out each cell, damaging it beyond repair, and ultimately cuts off the tumor's blood supply. It leaves behind harmless tissue that is absorbed by the body over time.
What are the advantages of cryoablation for kidney cancer?
Freezing is a natural process that is typically well
tolerated by the body. Usually, there is minimal to no pain and a relatively short recovery.
Will my entire kidney be frozen?
Typically, only the part of the kidney that contains the tumor is frozen. Thus, cryoablation is a "nephron or kidney sparing" treatment.
Is cryoablation new?
Freezing is not new. It has a proven track record in other organs. For example, cryotherapy has been an accepted treatment for prostate cancer for more than a decade.
How successful is kidney cryoablation?
A long term study has shown that cancer-specific survival is possible for 92% of renal cryoablation patients after 5 years and 83% after 10 years.2
How long does the procedure take?
Your physician can best answer that question but a
typical kidney cryoablation procedure takes about 1-2 hours.
How long is the recovery period?
While each person is different, most patients recover relatively fast. Typically, patients spend only one night in the hospital or may even go home the same day. Most patients have fully recovered within a week or so. And because this is not major surgery, there is usually little pain during recovery. However, as with any
medical procedure there are risks, and you should always closely follow your doctor's advice.
How will I know that the procedure
was a success?
Your physician will be able to gauge success by taking a CT scan shortly after the procedure. Follow-up scans, usually at 6 months and 1 year, will further confirm that the tumor has been successfully destroyed.
This information is provided for general information purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice. Patients should seek the advice of a qualified physician.
1. American Cancer Society. (2011) Cancer Facts and Figures
2. Aron M, et al. Laparoscopic renal cryoablation: 8 year, single surgeon outcomes. Journal of Urology 2010; 183(3): 889-895.