Cryotherapy for skin cancer

Cryotherapy (sometimes called cryosurgery) uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy cancer cells. It may be occasionally used for small skin cancers that only affect the surface layers of the skin.

What is cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy (sometimes called cryosurgery) uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy cancer cells. It is occasionally used to remove small skin cancers that are only in the surface layers of the skin. It is commonly used to treat actinic keratoses.

Having cryotherapy for skin cancer

The doctor sprays liquid nitrogen onto the area to freeze it. It can be painful – some people describe it as feeling like a bee sting.  Some people may need more than one cryotherapy treatment to get rid of the cancer completely.

Side effects of cryotherapy for skin cancer

After treatment the area may ache or throb for a few minutes. After about 1 hour or so, it is common for the area to blister. The blister may become filled with blood and may be painful. Your doctor or nurse may need to drain the fluid from it using a needle. But the top of the blister should be left intact. Your doctor can explain how to care for the treated area.

After about 2 weeks the scab drops off. You may have a white scar in the area.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our skin cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) NICE pathways: Skin Cancer Treatment overview. (updated 2020) 

    Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. NICE guideline [NG34] Published:2016.

    British Journal of Dermatology. British Association of Dermatologists guidelines for the management of people with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2020.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Cemiplimab for treating metastatic or locally advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma [TA592] Published: 07 August 2019. 

    BMJ Best Practice. Overview of Skin Cancer. (updated 2019)

    British Association of Dermatologists. Service Guidance and Standards for Mohs Micrographic Surgery (MMS). 2020.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.