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Cryotherapy for Prostate Cancer: A Q&A with Urologist J. Kellogg Parsons, MD


By Yadira Galindo   |   June 25, 2019

​According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 66. Treatment options, such as active surveillance, surgery and radiation, vary depending on how advanced the disease is when it is first diagnosed.

J. Kellogg Parsons, MD, an expert in minimally invasive treatments, like robotically assisted surgery, explains another, less invasive option available for select men with low-risk disease: cryotherapy. UC San Diego Health is the only cancer center in town offering this out-patient procedure.

What is cryotherapy and how long has it been in use?

J. Kellogg Parsons

Rather than removing the entire prostate through surgery, or using radiation to treat the entire prostate, we insert a needle through the skin and into the tumor to freeze the cancer cells and a small area around it. This process limits the potential side effects that arise from removing or treating the entire prostate.

UC San Diego Health has been pioneering cryotherapy for 25 years. It had been an underutilized treatment option; but in the last couple of years, as technology has improved and research data has shown it to be effective at treating prostate cancer while limiting side effects, we are seeing more patients asking about this minimally invasive option. On a national level, we have been helping to develop clinical trials and are actively researching ways to improve the technology and its effectiveness.

Who is a candidate for cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy is a good option for patients who have cancer that has returned (recurred) after radiation treatment or for newly diagnosed patients whose cancer is contained to the prostate and who are interested in exploring options other than radiation or surgery.

When I meet with patients, I personalize their treatments depending on their diagnosis and their needs. I explain the pros and cons of each option and what may or may not help them individually. I don’t generally suggest cryotherapy for patients with aggressive cancers, or cancers that are beginning to spread out of the prostate because, for them, it is not as effective at curing the cancer.

For patients with cancer that has recurred after radiation, cryotherapy may prevent or delay the need for hormone therapy, which has many side effects.

Ithaar H. Derweesh, MD, also treats select kidney cancer patients with cryotherapy.

How effective is cryotherapy?

Research shows that cryotherapy is effective, but by how much depends on each individual. Generally, research shows that appropriate patients will have up to a 75 percent chance of remaining cancer free for at least five years after treatment.

What’s the process for treatment?

Cryotherapy is an outpatient procedure that is performed in an operating room using the latest ultrasound technology and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to insert a needle through the skin and into the tumor. The MRI allows us to more precisely locate the tumor and limit side effects. Patients can go home that same day. As with any other cancer treatment, we will schedule regular checkups with a patient receiving this treatment to monitor for potential side effects or recurrence.

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