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Tennessee is the place my family and I call home, and it has a climate that you’d probably describe as temperate. While we experience all four seasons here, none of them (except for maybe summer) are really all that extreme. Even during winter, we have very few prolonged stretches of below-freezing conditions, along with getting minimal snow.
We all love the arctic-like temperatures and the snow in Montana during the winter months (we used to live there), and there are definitely some drawbacks to not having frigid winters.
For one thing, pests are much more problematic in areas like ours because warmer conditions actually give insects and rodents a greater chance of long-term survival and increased population growth. Like nearly all living things, pests aren’t particularly keen on bone-chilling weather.
The official Farmers’ Almanac explains that disease-carrying ticks, spiders, fleas, roaches, and many other unsightly creepy-crawlers are far less of an issue in the colder north than they are in the warmer south. That’s because cold weather functions as one of nature’s most powerful weapons against pestilence. This is the reason why there’s typically many more unwanted critters the closer you get to the equator.
Why am I talking so much about the weather and cold, especially in the heat of summer? Because there are important lessons to be learned from the cold as far as us humans are concerned. Believe it or not, very cold temperatures can be used to keep the human body free of the pestilence known as disease – but many people are completely unaware of this fact.
Supporting Human Health with Cryotherapy: A Brief History
As you’ve probably already guessed, one of the main reasons I’m bringing up cold therapy at all is that it’s highly relevant within the realm of cancer treatment. In fact, the use of cryotherapy in cancer remediation dates back to the mid-19th century. This was when an English physician by the name of Dr. James Arnott was the first to discover that essentially “freezing” cancer cells to death is a safe and effective way to destroy and eliminate them from the body.
Dr. Arnott discovered that mixing salt with crushed ice in a 1:2 ratio resulted in a highly effective cold-inducing remedy for annihilating cancer tumors. This led him to theorize that perhaps every type of inflammation inside the body might be quelled using very low temperatures – a hypothesis that would eventually prove to have plenty of merit.
This was the driving impetus behind Dr. Arnott’s initial experiments with cold therapy, nearly all of which proved to be a success. He would learn that quickly lowering the temperature of a tumor to between -0.4 and -11.2 F caused it to shrink and stop draining fluid – with the added benefit of relieving pain.
Dr. Arnott would later write about how this congealing process directly targets inflammation, in turn destroying the vitality of cancer cells. When applied early enough, cryotherapy can even exert “curative action” on tumors, causing them to completely disappear from a patient’s body entirely.
These successes would further lead Dr. Arnott to develop his own customized suite of cold-therapy equipment and tools that he used to administer what many now refer to as cryosurgery, or cryotherapy. These terms basically describe the entire scope of cold-therapy as applied in disease remediation. These technologies, which were featured at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851, would earn Dr. Arnott plenty of awards throughout his life, as well as world renown.
Palliative care in the treatment of cancer was Dr. Arnott’s initial and primary focus. However, his discoveries as to its benefits in treating cancer directly helped to pave the way for cryotherapy’s eventual use as a first-line treatment for a host of different cancers. This included cancers of the breast, uterine, and skin.
Beyond cancer, Dr. Arnott’s work also revealed that cryotherapy can be a valuable tool in addressing many other human ailments as well. This included everything from acne and neuralgia to chronic pain and even headaches. Cryotherapy’s unique numbing effect laid the groundwork for its continued use and refinement throughout the 19th century and into today.
How Cryotherapy Works at the Cellular Level to Destroy Tumors
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that cryotherapy has indeed come a long way since the days of Dr. Arnott, even earning fancy new names like cryoablation that insinuate just how far it’s advanced technologically. But the essence of what it does has remained the same throughout time, maintaining one basic and essential purpose: to destroy something that’s really harmful by exposing it to something that’s really cold.
When it comes to treating internal cancers, this is precisely what takes place. A cryosurgeon inserts what’s known as a “cryoprobe” (aka “freeze wand”) into a patient’s body, delivering a blast of icy terror to the site of a tumor. Using nitrogen, nitrous oxide, or argon gas to accomplish this, the cryoprobe effectively freezes the tumor and its malignant cells to death by changing the material state of their water content from liquid to solid.
Have you ever tried to quickly chill a glass bottle of your favorite beverage by sticking it in the freezer – only to later discover that its contents expanded and burst through the glass because you forgot to take it out in time? If so, then you already know more than you think you do about how cryotherapy works its “magic” in destroying cancer cells.
It’s obviously a bit more complicated than that, involving a whole lot more precision and a whole lot less accidental freezer waste, but you get the idea. If you’re at all familiar with the concept of apoptosis (programmed cell death), you can think of cryotherapy as an instigator of this natural process.
Cryotherapy has also been shown to actually destroy cell tissue after freezing it. Waste cleanup is an important part of any effective cancer treatment regimen, as lingering dead cell tissue is toxic to the body. Therefore, this is an important facet to cryotherapy’s mode of action in targeting cancer. The “freeze wands” by which it’s applied in the body function as a type of zapper to aid the body in getting rid of all material fallout.
“Minor freezing injury features only inflammatory responses, which have some therapeutic uses,” explains a 2005 study on the molecular impact of cryotherapy published in BJU International. “Severe freezing injury destroys cells and tissues, which is the prime requirement for treating tumours, producing coagulation necrosis in the frozen tissue in the days after thawing.”
There’s also evidence to suggest that cryotherapy induces vascular stasis in tumors by causing a microcirculatory failure of their blood supply, leading to ischemia-induced rapid cell death. In simpler terms, cryotherapy basically slows or halts the food supply of tumors, effectively starving them out of house and home.
It’s a multi-pronged process, as you can see, that involves disrupting, dehydrating, swelling, thermally shocking, and toxifying cancer cells so that they have no chance of winning against their host. And all of this is accomplished with the simple and precise application of extreme cold temperatures.
The Best Cancer Treatments Come With Minimal Side Effects
One of the most appealing aspects to cryotherapy is that, unlike traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments, its side effects are minimal. Even compared to other surgical procedures like mastectomies and lumpectomies that similarly involve probing the body with foreign instruments, cold therapy is a much gentler process. When performed correctly, it leaves no trace of damage in the patient.
Using either ultrasound or MRI, the cryotherapy process can be performed relatively safely and with amazing precision, ensuring that all healthy tissue in close proximity to unhealthy tissue remains mostly or entirely unscathed throughout the surgery. The National Cancer Institute describes cryosurgery as being “less invasive” than other forms of surgery, as the biggest impact on the body is typically just the small incision that must be made in order to insert the cryoprobe “freeze wand.”
In other words, the advantages of cryotherapy far outweigh any potential disadvantages. It’s a relatively inexpensive procedure compared to other conventional cancer therapies, and it requires much shorter recovery time, often requiring only the use of local anesthesia. Cryotherapy can also be repeated as many times as needed in order to neutralize the cancer threat. This is one reason why many patients who’ve tried everything else without success opt for it.
As an example of its minimal side effects, women with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia who choose cryotherapy understand that it can cause cramping, bleeding, and generalized pain. But what it doesn’t cause is infertility, as is the case with some conventional treatments for this condition. In patients with skin cancer, cryotherapy can cause swelling and scarring. But again, it’s nothing compared to the prolific immune system destruction that typically results from a prolonged chemotherapy regimen.
The NCI lists four types of cancer conditions as viable candidates for treatment with cryotherapy.
1 | Early-stage skin cancer
2 | Pre-cancerous skin growths
3 | Pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix
4 | Retinoblastoma (a type of childhood eye cancer)
However, there’s also evidence to suggest that cryotherapy works for other types of cancers as well, including those of the bone, breast, prostate, colon, and kidney.
Cryotherapy can also be applied alongside other cancer treatments for improved overall benefits. Wearing down tumors and attacking their support structures using other treatment means often precedes the use of cryotherapy, which in many cases is administered only after these other procedures have failed to deliver the final death blow. Since cryotherapy seems to work best in smaller, localized areas, utilizing a multi-pronged approach tends to produce greater long-term efficacy and success.
This seems to embody the general consensus of the NCI’s compiled research on cryotherapy, which it also suggests works best on cancers that haven’t yet spread to other parts of the body. Once a tumor or cancer diagnosis metastasizes, that’s when cryotherapy begins to lose its comprehensive effectiveness. That being said, it can still serve as a viable support tool in the larger cancer-fighting arsenal.
Cancer cells, like all cells, are composed primarily of water. As I mentioned earlier in the “beverage in the freezer” analogy, when this water is frozen it creates ice crystals that basically cause the cell to burst and die. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the specific published research on cold therapy that demonstrates its efficacy in an array of cancer applications.
Case Studies in Cold Therapy
These case studies illustrate the benefits of cold therapy for cancer in one of three ways. First as a primary mode of attack against cancer. Secondly as an adjunct or “salvage” therapy that some patients choose to employ as a last resort therapy when all else fails. Thirdly, cryotherapy can even be used simply to mitigate the harmful side effects caused by conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.
One example of this third modality was explained in research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers subjected chemotherapy patients to weekly treatments of cryotherapy, which involved having them wear frozen gloves and socks for 90-minute intervals. The therapy helped to minimize or even completely eliminate the symptoms of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. The result was improved quality of life for patients with regards to the pain, numbness, and tingling they had otherwise experienced.
As an adjunct (supplemental) treatment combined with chemotherapy, cryotherapy has been shown to aid in the comprehensive destruction of cancer cells. Based on the findings of one particular study, previously administered chemotherapeutic agents actually helped cryotherapy to more comprehensively destroy the cancer cells being targeted, while also helping to minimize the incidence of adverse events.
In another study conducted by the same authors, exposing prostate cancer cells to 5-fluorouracil, an injectable chemotherapy drug, for two to four days before freezing them as part of a cryotherapy regimen helped to completely destroy the entire malignant cell line. This was even the case when less-extreme temperatures were used, suggesting that employing both techniques in tandem results in less of each having to be used in order to get the job done. A big benefit of this, of course, is the minimized risk of side effects.
Cancer-specific cytotoxic drugs are also made more beneficial when used alongside cryotherapy. Though much debate remains over the timing of administration for these drugs, studies suggest that when they’re given right after cryotherapy during the tissue “thawing” phase – but before the induced failure of the microcirculation process – they tend to remain present in the targeted tissue for a much longer period of time. This results in improved overall efficacy.
In cases where cryotherapy seemingly doesn’t work as expected, studies involving the use of follow-up treatment with radiotherapy reveal that it often helps to lay the preliminary groundwork for cancer cell destruction. In vitro experiments on cancer cells that have previously been “cooled” show that they have a much greater sensitivity to irradiation after exposure to cryotherapy. This suggests that for some cancers, cryotherapy functions as a highly effective form of pre-treatment for cancer, including difficult-to-treat prostate cancers.
Further evidence of cryotherapy’s benefits as a pretreatment for cancer have been shown with regards to the immunological response it provokes inside the body. Research published back in 1967 uncovered this phenomenon in depth, revealing cryotherapy’s profoundly beneficial provocation of the immune system to actively fight cancer tumors on its own.
As I mentioned earlier, freezing cancer cells can also help to make them more susceptible to destruction by other treatments, including anti-cancer drugs. Cancers that aren’t necessarily all that responsive to cryotherapy alone can still benefit from its adjunct use alongside other treatments. Cryotherapy helps to improve both their efficacy and accuracy, as well as minimize their indiscriminate destruction of healthy tissue.
Additional Uses & Benefits of Cold Therapy
Other specific examples of cryotherapy’s benefits as spelled out in the scientific literature include its uses in the treatment of:
Cancers of the Mouth and Lip
A 1965 paper published in the journal Cancer found that liquid nitrogen-based cryotherapy was able to effectively control malignant and benign lesions of both the lip and oral cavity in five test patients, all of whom were determined months after their treatments were completed to have been cured of their conditions.
Patients with oral mucositis, a painful form of inflammation and ulceration of the mouth caused by high-dose chemotherapy and radiation treatments, have also been shown to benefit from cryotherapy. A comprehensive review of 14 different studies published between 1991 and 2015, which together included 1316 participants, found that oral cryotherapy is highly effective in, at the very least, reducing the symptoms of oral mucositis – including even very severe cases of it.
One of its “crown jewel” applications, the successful use of cryotherapy in treating prostate cancer has an impressive scientific track record. One case study (published in the journal Prostate Cancer) found that it results in a 94.4% overall survival rate, which is only outdone by its 98.1% cancer-specific survival rate.
In fact, cryotherapy is so effective at treating prostate cancer that the United States Health Care Financing Administration granted approval for Medicare reimbursements of cryosurgical procedures for primary, localized prostate cancer cases beginning back in July of 1999.
Cancers of the Esophagus and Gut
At the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Brenda Hoffman, MD, has successfully used cryotherapy to treat more than 50 patients with either esophageal or upper gastrointestinal (GI) tumors. Not only has cryotherapy proven to be easier on patients’ bodies, but it results in a quick turnaround, often allowing patients to return home the same day as their surgeries.
Research out of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that extreme cold is one of mesothelioma’s worst enemies. While extreme heat was found to have almost no effect on mesothelioma cells, extreme cold destroyed almost every single one of them in a petri dish in just five minutes.
More than 90% of patients diagnosed with primary and metastatic liver tumors aren’t eligible for surgical resection, which just so happens to be one of the only recognized treatment options for this particular condition. But research suggests that cryotherapy just might be the safe and effective solution that liver cancer patients need, as evidence points to survival rates upwards of 40%.
The moral of the story here is simple: Cryotherapy works, and it doesn’t harm the body anywhere close to the degree that the standard “cut, burn, and poison” procedures do. I happen to think cryotherapy is among the most promising “alternative” cancer treatments available to patients today, and it deserves far more credit than it currently receives.
I hesitate to even use that word, since cryotherapy is hardly “alternative” when you consider the fact that it’s been around for almost 200 years. Yet because many cancer patients (and conventional doctors) still don’t know much (if anything) about it, cryotherapy remains something of an elusive natural remedy. That’s why I’m doing my part to bring it to your attention, loudly and clearly, so that you can in turn raise awareness with your own healthcare provider, friends, and family.
For most cancer patients, cryotherapy is a safe, established, effective way to fight the disease with very little risk to the rest of your body.
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