Renal Cryoablation

Interventional Solutions

Each year over 60,000 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer in the USA.1 Today, kidney tumors are often found early when they are still small. As a result, survival rates are very high. As with all cancers, the sooner it is treated, the greater the potential for better outcomes. Kidney tumors that are discovered early can be successfully treated without surgically removing all or part of the kidney. Advances in medical technology now allow physicians to ablate (destroy) the tumor in the body, thereby reducing both the risks and the long recovery from open surgery. One treatment option, cryoablation, destroys small kidney masses by freezing cancerous tissue. This brochure answers the most common questions about this procedure.


What is cryoablation?

Cryoablation, also called cryosurgery, or just “cryo,” is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used to treat small kidney tumors. The name comes from two ancient words; cryo is the Greek word for cold and ablation is the Latin word for destroying tissue. In other words, cryoablation means destroying tissue with extreme cold.

What is the procedure like?

After anesthesia is administered, one or more slender needles called cryoprobes are inserted into or near the tumor. The doctor uses imaging technology such as ultrasound or CT scans to guide the cryoprobe placement and verify that the tip is precisely positioned.

Once each cryoprobe is in place, a cryogenic gas is circulated inside the cryoprobe to create a very cold ice ball at the tip. The ice ball encompasses the entire tumor plus a safety margin past the tumor edges. When the correct low temperature is reached, the doctor thaws the ice ball and the probes are removed.

How does ice destroy cells and what is left?

Lethal ice destroys tumors with a combination of effects. Simply put, freezing dries out each cell, damaging it beyond repair, and ultimately cuts off the tumor’s blood supply. It leaves behind harmless tissue that is absorbed by the body over time.

What are the advantages of cryoablation for kidney cancer?

Freezing is a natural process that is typically well tolerated by the body. Usually, there is minimal to no pain and a relatively short recovery.

Will my entire kidney be frozen?

Typically, only the part of the kidney that contains the tumor is frozen. Thus, cryoablation is a nephron- or kidney-sparing treatment.

renal cryo diagram

This diagram demonstrates the use of a cryoprobe positioned at the center of the tumor. The ice ball will encapsulate the entire tumor with lethal ice. In this diagram, the ice ball from the cryoprobe is still forming and will eventually reach its maximum size (typically at 10 minutes). The final size will include a safety margin that will extend beyond the tumor as indicated by the dashed line in the diagram.

Is cryoablation new?

Freezing is not new. It has a proven track record in other organs. For example, cryotherapy has been an accepted treatment for prostate cancer for more than a decade.

How successful is kidney cryoablation?

A long-term study has shown that cancer-specific survival is possible for 92% of renal cryoablation patients after 5 years and 83% after 10 years.2

How long does the procedure take?

Your physician can best answer that question but a typical kidney cryoablation procedure takes about 1 to 2 hours.

How long is the recovery period?

While each person is different, most patients recover relatively quickly. Typically, patients spend only one night in the hospital or may even go home the same day, Most patients have fully recovered within a week or so. Since this is not a major surgery, there is usually little pain during recovery. However, as with any medical procedure, there are risks, and you should always closely follow your doctor’s advice.

How will I know that the procedure was a success?

Your physician will be able to gauge success by taking a CT scan shortly after the procedure. Follow-up scans, usually at 6 months and 1 year, will further confirm that the tumor has been successfully destroyed.

What are the risks of cryoablation?

As with any medical procedure, there are potential risks and complications related to cryoablation. Your physician will advise you of your specific risks before the procedure.

How do I decide which treatment option is best for me?

This brochure is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are diagnosed with a kidney tumor, ask your physician if kidney cryotherapy is the right choice for you.

This brochure is not a substitute for medical advice. Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you have and always be sure to follow your doctor’s advice.


  1. American Cancer Society, “Cancer facts and figures 2011.”
  2. Morkos J, et al. Percutaneous Cryoablation for Stage 1 Renal Cell Carcinoma: Outcomes from a 10-year Prospective Study and Comparison with Matched Cohorts from the National Cancer Database. Radiology. Published 2020 Aug;296(2):452-459.
  3. Wein AJ, et al (editors). Campbell-Walsh Urology (2007); Saunders Elsevier: Philadelphia, PA.