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Have you ever come across the term “cryosurgery” on a vets’ website? It’s often listed under “other services” – but what is it? And is it important? Read on for more information…
Cryosurgery comes from the word, ‘cryo’ which means ‘freezing’ in Latin. Your vet is able to use liquid nitrogen to freeze masses or tumours. This product comes in sprays or liquid guns, which means the product can be applied at high pressure to the affected area. The freezing technique kills the top layer of skin cells, causing the body to heal and replace the damaged tissue with healthy, new skin cells. This is only useful when there are small masses to remove such as warts, small dermal tumours or skintags.
A related technique, Cryotherapy, can also be used in order to minimise inflammation. This involves placing icepacks onto the skin or over swollen joints. Cooling the skin down, causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels, reducing the number of inflammatory mediators within the skin or joint which can help to reduce pain. If your veterinary team would like to do this, they will give you strict instructions on how to perform the therapy and how long to leave the ice on for. Leaving ice on the skin for too long could cause a problem, and as a result, this is fairly uncommon in dogs and cats.
What are the benefits of cryosurgery?
It is a non-invasive way of performing a mass removal. If your pet is very well behaved and not showing signs of pain, we may in some cases be able to do this removal without using a general anaesthetic. Veterinary professionals are able to use local anaesthetics including nerve blocks to prevent your pet from feeling the intense cold sensation, ensuring your pet is comfortable throughout the procedure.
Are there any alternatives to cryosurgery?
There are, of course, alternative options for mass removals in pets, and in many cases these may be preferable.
Surgical removal is the most common
We can surgically remove most masses and tumours. Normally, we would use ligatures to seal blood vessels and hold different layers of the skin and subcutaneous layers together. Alternatively, surgical removal using cautery for the blood vessels to prevent bleeding can be used. This method allows for precise margins and ensures the entire mass is removed. A general anaesthetic is required for these types of surgery, which may make this procedure more risky if your pet has any ongoing medical conditions affecting their cardiorespiratory system.
Some people will opt to leave and monitor small masses
This is usually only an option if they are not causing the pet a problem. If you are opting to leave a mass, we strongly recommend performing a fine needle aspiration or a biopsy to find out whether the mass is malignant or benign. If the mass is malignant and, therefore, likely to spread or grow rapidly, the longer you leave the mass, the harder it will be to treat or remove it and therefore, the worse the prognosis will be.
What if my veterinary practice does not offer cryosurgery and I would like my pet to receive it?
Referral for cryosurgery is always an option. This means your vet can send you to another veterinary surgery in order for your pet to receive the service – wait times may vary from one referral centre to another, so doing your research beforehand is important. We would recommend getting quotes and looking at how far you would need to travel for the surgery to ensure you are making an informed decision.
How long will it take to heal?
The skin normally takes between 2 to 4 weeks to heal, although this time can vary based on different factors. These factors include:
- The size of the wound – larger wounds tend to take a little longer to heal.
- The mobility of the wound – then more mobility a wound has, the slower the healing will be.
- The tension of the skin – the higher the tension within the skin, the slower wound healing is.
- Infection – if the wound becomes infected, healing will be delayed.
- The health of the skin surrounding the wound – the healthier the skin is surrounding the wound; the quicker healing is likely to be due to having a well-nourished blood supply.
Are there any side effects to cryosurgery?
It can be difficult to get good margins from tumours, especially if the base of the tumour is deep within the subcutaneous layers. This means the tumour may come back. A cone or t-shirt must be worn following surgery. This helps to prevent infection and stops your pet from scratching or licking the wound. With any mass removal, there is a risk of infection. If your pet is able to lick the wound, the likelihood of it becoming infected is high, so it is essential to follow any post-operative veterinary advice.
Sometimes, following cryosurgery, the fur may not grow back properly.
Cryosurgery is a useful tool and can be used to remove small masses non invasively. You should chat to your veterinary professional about whether or not this treatment option is suitable for your pet.