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Laser therapy for cancer

Laser therapy uses a very narrow, focused beam of light to shrink or destroy cancer cells. It can be used to cut out tumors without damaging other tissue.

Laser therapy is often given through a thin, lighted tube that is put inside the body. Thin fibers at the end of the tube direct the light at the cancer cells. Lasers are also used on the skin.

How Laser Therapy is Used

Laser therapy can be used to:

  • Destroy tumors and precancerous growths
  • Shrink tumors that are blocking the stomach, colon, or esophagus
  • Help treat cancer symptoms, such as bleeding
  • Treat cancer side effects, such as swelling
  • Seal nerve endings after surgery to reduce pain
  • Seal lymph vessels after surgery to reduce swelling and keep tumor cells from spreading

Lasers are most often used with other types of cancer treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy.

Some of the cancers laser therapy can treat include:

  • Breast
  • Brain
  • Skin
  • Head and neck
  • Cervical

Types of Laser Therapy

The most common lasers for treating cancer are:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers. These lasers remove thin layers of tissue from the surface of the body and the lining of organs inside the body. They can treat basal cell skin cancer and cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva.
  • Argon lasers. These lasers can treat skin cancer and are also used with light-sensitive drugs in a treatment called photodynamic therapy.
  • Nd:Yag lasers. These lasers are used to treat cancer of the uterus, colon, and esophagus. The laser-emitting fibers are put inside a tumor to heat up and damage the cancer cells. This treatment has been used to shrink liver tumors.

Benefits of Laser Therapy

Compared to surgery, laser therapy has some benefits. Laser therapy:

  • Takes less time
  • Is more precise and causes less damage to tissues
  • Leads to less pain, bleeding, infections, and scarring
  • Can often be done in a doctor's office instead of a hospital

The downsides of laser therapy are:

  • Not many doctors are trained to use it
  • It is expensive
  • The effects may not last so the therapy may need to be repeated

References

American Cancer Society. Lasers in Cancer Treatment. American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/lasers-in-cancer-treatment. Accessed August 31, 2015.

Garrett CG, Reinisch L, Wright HV. Laser Surgery. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 60.

National Cancer Institute. Lasers in Cancer Treatment. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/surgery/lasers-fact-sheet. Accessed August 31, 2015.

Review Date 9/13/2015

Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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