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Freezing of the Cervix - Cryosurgery of the Cervix

Overview & Description

Cryosurgery of the cervix is the freezing of a section of the cervix. This is usually done to remove cells that show the types of changes that can lead to cancer in the future. Cells with these types of changes are called precancerous. The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus where it attaches to the vagina.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Cryosurgery may be used to treat a woman who has:

  • an inflamed cervix, called cervicitis
  • certain types of precancerous changes in the cervix. These changes are usually first detected from a Pap smear.
  • some forms of cervical ectropion, which may cause a chronic or long-standing whitish or yellowish discharge.
  • How is the procedure performed?

    This procedure can often be done in the doctor's office. First, a tool called a speculum is used to hold the vaginal walls apart so that the cervix can be seen well. This tool is also used during a regular Pap smear. A bit of gel is then put on the cervix. This helps create a good seal for a tool called a cryoprobe. The cryoprobe delivers liquid nitrogen to the right spot on the cervix. A flow of liquid nitrogen, which is extremely cold, freezes the cervix cells for about 3 to 5 minutes. After a wait of 2 to 3 minutes to let the cells warm up, they are frozen again for 3 to 5 minutes. This repeated freezing destroys the cells.

    Preparation & Expectations

    What happens right after the procedure?

    When cryosurgery has been used to treat precancerous cells in the cervix, a Pap smear should be done every 3 to 4 months after that for one year. During the second year, Pap smears should be done every 6 months. A Pap smear is done to test for cancer of the cervix. If a Pap smear is abnormal, a biopsy of the cervix may be needed to check the cells of the cervix more closely. A biopsy involves taking a small piece of tissue from the cervix with a special needle. The tissue can then be sent to the lab for analysis.

    Home Care and Complications

    What happens later at home?

    A woman may go back to her normal activities after the procedure. Mild cramping may be treated with over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.

    During the next month, the cells that were frozen will be lost in the form of a clear discharge from the vagina. So that the tissues can heal, the woman should not put anything in her vagina for 4 to 6 weeks after the procedure. This means she must avoid using douches or tampons. And she should not have sexual intercourse during this time as well.

    What are the potential complications after the procedure?

    Rarely, complications can occur, such as:

  • bleeding from the cervix
  • infection of the cervix
  • narrowing of the cervix, which may cause more cramping than normal during menstruation if it blocks the menstrual flow

  • Attribution

    Author:Eva Martin, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:02/11/02
    Reviewer:William M. Boggs, MD
    Date Reviewed:02/11/02