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June 2016

Cryotherapy—As Ancient as the Pharaohs

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(6):730. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.1616

In cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery, cold temperatures are used to treat a wide variety of skin disease in modern dermatology. However, cryotherapy has its humble roots as far back as the Egyptians in 3000 BCE, when cold compresses were used to treat the inflammation of infected wounds.1 In the fifth century BCE, Hannibal’s Carthaginian mercenaries experienced the hemostatic and destructive tissue effects of the cold while crossing the Alps en route to Rome.2 In the Napoleonic times, cooling was used for anesthesia and amputation. It was not until the mid-1800s when modern use of cryotherapy was born. James Arnott, deemed the “father of modern cryosurgery,” was the first to use salted solutions with crushed ice to freeze cancers of the breast and cervix. The temperatures reached −18°C to −24°C, which was enough to freeze the tumors and lead to a reduction in size of the lesions and improved pain management. Eventually, Arnott used his cryosurgical device on acne and neuralgia.3 However, the device did not get cold enough for complete tissue destruction.

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