The word LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Regular light is not the same as laser light. The sun’s or a light bulb’s light has a wide range of wavelengths and radiates out in all directions. On the other hand, laser light has a single, high-energy wavelength and can be concentrated into an extremely narrow beam. As a result, it is both strong and precise. For highly precise surgical procedures, such as mending a damaged retina in the eye or removing bodily tissue, lasers can be used instead of blades (scalpels). They can also be used to heat and kill tiny regions (such as tumors) or to activate light-sensitive medicines.
Types of lasers
The liquid, gas, solid, or electrical material utilized to generate light is referred to as a laser. Lasers are used to treat a variety of medical issues, and new ones are being tested all the time. The following are the most common lasers used in cancer therapy today:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Neodymium: yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG)
Carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers
With little bleeding, the CO2 laser may cut or evaporate (dissolve) tissue. It has a low impact on the surrounding or deep tissue. Pre-malignancies and some early-stage cancers are occasionally treated with this sort of laser.
The argon laser, like the CO2 laser, only penetrates tissue for a short distance. It can be used to treat skin conditions as well as some forms of eye cancers. It’s occasionally used to remove polyps before they become cancerous during colonoscopies (tests to search for colon cancer). It can also be used in combination with light-sensitive medicines to destroy cancer cells in a procedure called photodynamic therapy (PDT).It can also be used to help patients who are receiving radiation therapy for some forms of cancer stop bleeding by closing blood vessels. Because radiation therapy can damage the blood arteries surrounding the tumor, causing them to rupture and bleed, this may be necessary for some situations.
Nd:YAG (Neodymium: Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet) lasers
This laser’s light may penetrate deeper into tissue than other types of lasers, and it can cause blood to clot rapidly. Endoscopes are narrow flexible tubes that may be used to access hard-to-reach regions of the body, such as the esophagus (swallowing tube) or the large intestine, using Nd: YAG lasers (colon). This light can also pass through flexible optical fibers (thin, transparent tubes) placed into a tumor, where the heat from the light can kill it.
Treating cancer with lasers
Lasers can be used in 2 main ways to treat cancer:
- To shrink or destroy a tumor with heat
- To activate a chemical – known as a photosensitizing agent – that kills only the cancer cells. (This is called photodynamic therapy or PDT.)
- Though lasers can be used alone, they are often used with other cancer treatments, such as direct chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Shrinking or destroying tumors directly
This laser’s light may penetrate deeper into tissue than other types of lasers, and it can cause blood to clot rapidly. Endoscopes are narrow flexible tubes that may be used to access hard-to-reach regions of the body, such as the esophagus (swallowing tube) or the large intestine, using Nd: YAG lasers (colon). This light can also pass through flexible optical fibers (thin, transparent tubes) placed into a tumor, where the heat from the light can kill it. Shrinking or destroying tumors directly.
Many types of cancer are treated with lasers in this way. Some instances are as follows:
Lasers can be used to remove polyps, which are tiny growths that can turn cancerous, from the colon and rectum (large intestine).
Lasers can be used to treat pre-malignancies and cancers of the skin, as well as pre-cancers and early cancer of the cervix and its surrounding regions.
Lasers can be used to treat cancer that has spread to the lungs from other parts of the body, as well as cancer that is obstructing the airway.
Small tumors of the head and neck may be treated with lasers in some circumstances.
Laser-induced interstitial thermotherapy (LITT) is a form of laser treatment that can be used to treat some types of malignancies, such as those in the liver and brain.
A specific medication called a photosensitizing agent is injected into the circulation for most kinds of photodynamic treatment (PDT). It is absorbed by bodily tissues over time. The medication has a longer half-life in cancer cells than in normal ones. Certain forms of light activate or switch on photosensitizing agents. In PDT, for example, an argon laser can be utilized. When cancer cells containing the photosensitizing compound are subjected to the laser’s light, a chemical reaction occurs, killing the cancer cells. The use of light exposure must be precisely planned such that it occurs when the majority of the agent has left healthy cells but remains in cancer cells.PDT is occasionally used to treat malignancies and pre-cancers of the esophagus, bile duct, bladder, and some types of lung cancer that may be accessed using endoscopes.
Other malignancies, such as those of the brain, pancreatic, and prostate, are being studied using PDT. Researchers are also testing other types of lasers and new photosensitizer medicines to see if they can improve the results.
Treating cancer-related side effects with lasers
The use of lasers to cure or prevent the adverse effects of popular cancer therapies is also being investigated. Low-level laser treatment (LLLT), for example, maybe beneficial in reducing arm swelling (lymphedema) caused after breast surgery. When lymph nodes in the armpit are removed after surgery, lymphedema in the arm is a possibility. LLLT may also be used to prevent or cure severe mouth sores induced by chemotherapy, according to certain studies.
Benefits and limitations of laser treatment
When compared to traditional surgical instruments, lasers offer certain benefits and downsides. Because each person’s situation is unique, it’s critical to speak with your doctor about the benefits and drawbacks of laser treatment before deciding if it’s suitable for you. In comparison to traditional surgical instruments, lasers offer some benefits (pros) and drawbacks (cons).
Positive aspects of laser treatment
- Lasers are more exact than blades (scalpels). For instance, the tissue near a laser cut (incision) is not affected since there is little contact with skin or other tissue.
- The heat produced by lasers helps clean (sterilize) the edges of the body tissue that it’s cutting, reducing the risk of infection.
- Since laser heat seals blood vessels, there is less bleeding, swelling, pain, or scarring.
- Operating time may be shorter.
- Laser surgery may mean less cutting and damage to healthy tissues (it can be less invasive). For example, with fiber optics, laser light can be directed to parts of the body through very small cuts (incisions) without having to make a large incision.
- More procedures may be done in outpatient settings.
- Healing time is often shorter.
Limitations of laser treatment
Lasers are only used by a small percentage of doctors and nurses.
When compared to conventional surgical instruments, laser equipment is expensive and large. However, technological advancements are gradually lowering their cost and size.
When lasers are utilized in the operating room, certain safety procedures must be observed. The whole surgical team, as well as the patient, must, for example, wear eye protection.
Because the results of certain laser treatments are temporary, they may need to be repeated. Additionally, the laser may not be able to eliminate the entire tumor in a single session, thus treatments may need to be repeated.