Cryotherapy (sometimes called cryosurgery) uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy cancer cells. If the cancer is small and only affects the surface layers of the skin, it may be possible to remove it with cryotherapy.

What is cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy cancer cells. It is occasionally used to treat skin cancer, if it is very small and only affects the surface layers of the skin.

Having cryotherapy for skin cancer

The doctor sprays liquid nitrogen onto the cancer to freeze it. It can be a bit painful when the liquid nitrogen is applied. Some people describe the feeling as being like a bee sting.

After the treatment

After treatment, the area may ache or throb for a minute or two. After about an hour or so, the area may blister. This is normal. The blister may contain blood. Your doctor or nurse may need to drain the fluid from the blister using a sterile needle. But the top of the blister should be left intact.

Keep the treated area covered with a dressing until a scab forms. About two weeks after your treatment, the scab drops off and the cancer cells should have cleared. You may have a scar in the area. Occasionally, you may need more than one cryotherapy treatment to get rid of the cancer completely.

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

    Motley et al. British Association of Dermatologists. Management of the patient with primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2009.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG12: Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. 2015 (updated 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG134: Sunlight Exposure: Benefits and Risks. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). PH32: Skin Cancer Prevention. 2011 (updated 2016).

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) 140. Management of primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2014.

    Telfar N et al. Guidelines for the management of basal cell carcinoma. British Journal of Haematology. 2008.


  • 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.

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