Cryotherapy is a way of killing cancer cells by freezing them. It is also called cryosurgery or cryoablation.

Cryotherapy can shrink a tumour that is blocking an airway. This can relieve breathlessness and other symptoms such as:

  • a cough
  • coughing up blood
  • a chest infection in the blocked part of the lung

Unfortunately it can’t cure your cancer.

You normally have cryotherapy as a day case procedure in the endoscopy unit of the hospital.

Preparing for your cryotherapy treatment

You sign a consent form before the treatment. This is a good time to make sure you ask the doctor any questions you have.

Take your medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You might need to stop any blood thinning medicines before your treatment but your doctor will let you know.

You will have a general anaesthetic and so you shouldn’t eat or drink anything for a few hours before the cryotherapy. Your doctor or nurse will let you know exactly what time to stop eating and drinking.

Before cryotherapy

In the endoscopy department, a nurse will ask you to change into a gown. Then they show you into the treatment room.

Once you are lying on the couch, an anaesthetist gives you the anaesthetic medicine through a small tube put into a vein in your hand. This means you will be asleep and won’t feel anything during the cryotherapy.

Your doctor puts a long, thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your throat and into the airway. They pass a probe down through the bronchoscope.

Diagram showing a bronchoscopy

The tip of the probe freezes part of the tumour. The doctor then allows the area to thaw and they move the probe a little.  

Your doctor repeats this process until they have treated the whole area of cancer. They remove as much of the tissue as possible using forceps or the probe.

It takes about 30 minutes.

Your doctor removes the bronchoscope.

After cryotherapy treatment

After your cryotherapy, you will be able to eat and drink once the anaesthetic has worn off. You might feel a bit confused and drowsy, but you won’t remember your treatment.

You should be able to breathe more easily than before the cryotherapy.

You can get changed into your own clothes once you feel less sleepy.

You will spend a couple of hours on the hospital ward. Your nurses will make sure you have fully recovered.

You should be able to go home the same day but take things easy for a day or so afterwards.

You shouldn’t drive until the day after the test because of the anaesthetic. Someone should collect you from the hospital and make sure that you get home safely.

Side effects

You might have a sore throat for a couple of days after the test because of the tube.

Pain in the chest

The treatment area can be painful and you will probably need to take painkillers for a few days afterwards.

Coughing up tumour tissue

You might cough up some tumour tissue for 1 or 2 days after this treatment, which can be unpleasant.

Coughing up blood

It is normal to see some blood in your spit after your cryotherapy treatment. It might give you a metallic taste in your mouth. If you are coughing up blood, let your doctor know straight away.

Possible risks

Your doctor will talk to you about the risks and benefits of having cryotherapy. It’s a safe procedure but every treatment has potential risks and side effects.

Difficulty breathing

Cryotherapy should make it easier to breathe. Let your doctor know if you find it more difficult to breathe.

Chest infection

Let your doctor know if you develop any signs of a chest infection. This includes having a high temperature and your phlegm (sputum) changing colour.


A hole called a fistula can develop between the airway and the food pipe (oesophagus). This is very rare. Let your doctor know if you have pain in your throat or chest.

If the cancer blocks the airway again

You can have the treatment again if the tumour starts to block the airway again. Or your doctor might suggest other treatments instead.

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