Since the 1960s, cryotherapy has been used to destroy skin tumours, precancerous skin moles, nodules, skin tags or unsightly freckles. It also has been used to destroy retinoblastomas, a childhood cancer of the retina. With the improvement of imaging techniques and the development of devices to better control extreme temperatures, physicians have begun to perform cryotherapy for prostate, liver, and cervical cancer, especially if surgery is not possible. Currently, research is being done to determine the effectiveness of cryotherapy for tumours of the bone, brain, kidney, lung and spine. Researchers are also evaluating its usefulness in freezing and shrinking benign breast lumps, called fibro adenomas.
Some medical professionals, particularly those who specialize in sports medicine, use the term cryotherapy to refer to the application of cold to muscles and joints that are sore or fatigued after physical exertion. However, this is not related to the radiologic-based technique described here.