Cryotherapy for Prostate Cancer

Author: Allyson Distel, MPH and Katherine Okonak, MSW, LSW
Last Reviewed: November 20, 2023

What is cryotherapy for prostate cancer?

Cryotherapy is the use of very cold temperatures to “freeze” prostate tissue and kill cancer cells. It is also called cryosurgery or cryoablation. Cryotherapy can be done to the whole prostate gland or to certain parts (called focal cryotherapy). Your provider will take steps to protect the healthy tissue and lessen the risk of side effects.

Who can have cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy can be used to treat prostate cancer that has not spread to other areas of the body (non-metastatic). It is often used for early-stage or low-risk cancers. Most of the time, cryotherapy is not used as the first treatment for prostate cancer. Cryotherapy can be an option for men who cannot have surgery or radiation, or if the cancer has come back after radiation.

How is cryotherapy given?

Cryotherapy is done in the hospital. You are given medication (local anesthesia) so that you do not feel the procedure. You may even be given general anesthesia to help you relax and sleep through the procedure. Before cryotherapy, your provider may ask you to do an enema, which is a fluid that helps to empty your colon.

For cryotherapy, an ultrasound probe is placed in your rectum. The probe is used to see what areas need to be treated and to monitor the procedure. A catheter is placed in your urethra (the tube that drains urine from your bladder). This catheter is filled with warm water to protect the urethra from freezing during the procedure. Thin needles are placed into the prostate gland through the perineum (the skin between the scrotum and anus). The ultrasound probe is used to guide where these needles are placed. A very cold gas (Argon gas) is put into the needles to freeze the tissue.

After the procedure, you will have a catheter in place to drain your urine for a few weeks. You may go home the same day or stay in the hospital overnight. You will be told how to care for yourself, such as how to treat your soreness or pain, what activities you can and cannot do, and when to call your healthcare provider.

What are the benefits of cryotherapy?

Compared to other treatments:

  • The treatment time is shorter.
  • You spend less time in the hospital.
  • There is less bleeding and pain.

What are the possible side effects of cryotherapy?

While freezing prostate tissue, healthy tissue in the area can be damaged by the cold temperature. This could result in: :

  • Nerve damage that leads to erectile dysfunction (not being able to get an erection).
  • In rare cases, a hole or connection (called a fistula) from the rectum to the bladder or urethra.
  • Urinary incontinence (not being able to hold your urine), which is most common when cryotherapy is used after radiation.

Other risks include: infection, bleeding, pain, frequent or difficult urination, blood in the urine, needing to move bowels often, or swelling in the scrotum or penis.

If cryotherapy is part of your treatment plan for prostate cancer, talk with your provider about any questions you may have.


American Cancer Society. Cryotherapy for prostate cancer.

Gestaut, M. M., Cai, W., Vyas, S., Patel, B. J., Hasan, S. A., MunozMaldonado, Y., … Swanson, G. (2017). Low-Dose-Rate Brachytherapy Versus Cryotherapy in Low- and Intermediate-Risk Prostate Cancer. International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, 98(1), 101–107.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Cryotherapy for prostate cancer.

Jung, J. H., Risk, M. C., Goldfarb, R., Reddy, B., Coles, B., & Dahm, P. (2018). Primary cryotherapy for localised or locally advanced prostate cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (5).

Mayo Clinic. Cryotherapy for prostate cancer.

Shah, T. T., Peters, M., Eldred-Evans, D., Miah, S., Yap, T., Faure-Walker, N. A., … Ahmed, H. U. (2019). Early-Medium-Term Outcomes of Primary Focal Cryotherapy to Treat Nonmetastatic Clinically Significant Prostate Cancer from a Prospective Multicentre Registry. European Urology, 76(1), 98–105.


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