The word "cryo" comes from the Greek word for "cold", which describes the way the treatment works. Cryotherapy uses nitrogen gas to freeze and destroy harmful cells. This procedure is often 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. These symptoms include coughing, breathlessness, bringing up blood and a lack of energy.

The procedure

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

You will have 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. Your doctor will place the frozen tip onto the tumour, destroying 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?

This procedure usually happens within the same day. On the day of your treatment, you will see a doctor and an anaesthetist. One of the team will take you to the operating theatre and the anaesthetist will place a small needle into your arm. This is 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 go to the recovery room for a further 30 minutes, giving 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. But some people need to stay in hospital overnight to completely recover from the effects of the procedure. If you are going home on the same day, you need a responsible adult, like a relative or friend to pick you up. They will also need to stay with you overnight. 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. You may also 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, contact your GP or the lung cancer nurse specialist for advice.

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

Will I need further treatment?

After the first treatment, your doctor will check the result of the procedure. For some patients, they will need to have more cryotherapy treatments.

Being diagnosed with cancer can be an anxious time for anyone, and we have a number of ways we can help to support you. 

What are the risks?

All medical procedures carry some risk. This is different for everyone because it depends on how unwell you are. Your doctor will discuss with you any specific risks that may apply to you. You can also use this time to ask any questions or talk about any concerns you may have.

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.

You can consider alternative ways of helping your breathing. You can discuss the different options available with your consultant, or members of your medical team.

Contact details

Royal Brompton Hospital

Matthew Johnson
020 7532 8121 x 4710 or 07531 978548

Michael Evans
020 7532 8121 x 4134 or bleep 7068

Harefield Hospital 

Julia Beeson
01895 828989 or 01895 823737, bleep 6181

Jean Austin
01895 828989 

Patient experience

Read one patient's account of his cryotherapy treatment.