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What is cryotherapy?

The word "cryo" comes from the Greek word for "cold", and describes the way the treatment works – cryotherapy uses nitrogen gas to freeze and destroy harmful cells. It is a procedure that is commonly used to treat lung cancers and benign tumours. 


Cryotherapy has been shown to shrink the size of a tumour that is blocking the airways and improve many of the associated symptoms, such as coughing, breathlessness, bringing up blood and a lack of energy.

How is cryotherapy performed?

Cryotherapy is a very similar procedure to a bronchoscopy, where a camera in a fine flexible tube is passed through the nose or mouth down into both lungs. 


Cryotherapy involves a short-acting general anaesthetic so that you are fully asleep for about 20 minutes. A tube, which allows a doctor to see into your lungs, is passed into your airway.


A thin, flexible instrument called a probe, which has a frozen tip, is passed through the tube. The frozen tip is then placed directly onto the tumour where it destroys the unwanted cells by freezing them. When the tissues defrost, the obstruction (tumour) should decrease in size so more air can pass into the lungs.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

Cryotherapy is usually a day-case procedure. On the day of your treatment you will be seen by a doctor and an anaesthetist. You will be taken to the operating theatre where the anaesthetist will place a small needle into your arm, to give you medication to send you to sleep before starting the procedure.

Your ward nurse will explain any instructions you need to follow. It is important that you:

  • do not eat anything from midnight of the night before your procedure
  • only drink clear fluids until 6am
  • take your medication as usual

How long does the procedure last?

The procedure takes about 20 minutes. Afterwards, you will be taken to the recovery room for a further 30 minutes to give you time to come round. Once you are fully awake, you will go to a ward. 

Most people feel well enough to go home at the end of the day. However, some people may need to stay in hospital overnight to completely recover from the effects of the procedure. If you are going home on the same day, it is important that you arrange for a responsible adult, such as a relative or friend, to collect you from hospital and stay with you overnight. Please do not drive for at least 24 hours after the anaesthetic.

A lung cancer nurse specialist will be available if you would like to discuss your care and support, or need more information.

Are there any side effects?

After the procedure it is quite common to have a sore throat or irritating cough and you may bring up sputum (mucus) which is blood-stained. These symptoms will usually improve in about three days. If they do not, or if you have any other worries, please contact your GP or the lung cancer nurse specialist to ask for advice.


It is important that you return to a normal level of activity as soon as possible after your operation; this will help the healing process.

Will I need further treatment?

After the first treatment, your doctor will check the result of the procedure. Some patients might need further cryotherapy treatments.

What are the risks?

All medical procedures carry some risk. The risk differs between patients because it depends on how unwell each person is. Your doctor will discuss with you any specific risks that may apply and you will be able to ask any questions about any concerns.


Generally, most patients do not experience any complications, but the most common ones are:

  • haemoptysis (coughing up blood)

  • irregular heart rhythm

  • breathing problems


These can be treated quickly and are not usually life-threatening. 

What are the benefits?

After the procedure, it is hoped:

  • if you had been coughing up blood, that this happens much less often or stops completely
  • if you had an irritating cough, that this has improved
  • you will not feel as breathless


What are the effects of not having the treatment?

If you choose not to have the treatment you may find that your symptoms continue or worsen. Your doctors and the lung cancer nurse specialist will support you to manage any symptoms you may have.

It may be possible to consider alternative ways of helping your breathing and it is important to discuss the different options available with your consultant, or members of your medical team.

Read one patient's account of his cryotherapy treatment.



Royal Brompton

Sydney Street,
London SW3 6NP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7352 8121


Read more about, and contact, the Trust's lung cancer nurse specialists