Laser Therapy for the Treatment of Skin Cancer
Laser therapy treatment can be used to remove cancer cells or precancerous cells from the skin. It can also be used to relieve some of the symptoms of skin cancer and other forms of cancer. Most often, though, specialists use laser therapy to treat cancers on the surface of the body or the lining of internal organs.
What is laser therapy?
Laser therapy is a high-intensity light that is used to treat cancer and other illnesses. Lasers have been used to shrink or destroy precancerous growths, abnormalities, and even cancerous tumors. Also, lasers are most commonly used to treat superficial cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma. Many specialists use laser therapy to treat cancer that is in the early stages, such as cervical, penile, vaginal, vulvar, and non-small cell lung cancer.
Doctors can also use lasers to relieve certain symptoms of cancer, like bleeding or obstruction. For example, lasers can be used to shrink or destroy a tumor that is blocking a patient’s trachea or esophagus. They can also be used to remove colon polyps or tumors that are blocking the colon or stomach. Most often laser therapy is combined with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, but it can be used alone. In addition, lasers can seal nerve endings to reduce pain after surgery and seal lymph vessels to reduce swelling and limit the spread of tumor cells.
What types of lasers are used in skin cancer treatment?
There are three types of lasers used to treat skin cancer, and each of these can shrink or destroy tumors and can be used with endoscopes. They include:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers – Cuts the skin’s surface without going into deeper layers. Therefore, they remove superficial cancers, such as skin cancer.
- Argon lasers – Often used to activate the drugs used in PDT.
- Neodymium: yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers – More commonly applied through an endoscope to treat internal organs, such as the uterus, esophagus, and colon. This laser sends optical fibers into specific areas of the body during LITT.
What are the advantages of laser therapy?
Lasers are more precise than standard surgical tools, like scalpels. They do less damage to normal tissues. Patients usually have less pain, bleeding, swelling, and scarring as a result. With laser therapy, operations usually do not take as long as standard surgery. In fact, laser therapy can often be done on an outpatient basis. It takes less time for patients to recover after laser surgery, and they are less likely to get an infection. Patients should consult with their health care provider about whether laser therapy is appropriate for them.
What are the disadvantages of laser therapy?
Laser therapy does have its limitations, though. Surgeons must be specially trained before they can perform laser therapy. There are strict safety precautions that must be followed. Laser therapy is expensive and requires bulky equipment. Lastly, the effects of laser therapy may not last long, so doctors may have to repeat the treatment for a patient to get the full benefit.
How is laser therapy given to the patient?
For treatment of invasive cancer, laser therapy is often given through a flexible endoscope, which is a thin, lighted tube used to look at tissues inside the body. The endoscope is fitted with optical fibers, thin fibers that transmit light. It is inserted through an opening in the body, such as the mouth, nose, anus, or vagina. Laser light is then precisely aimed to cut or destroy a tumor. For the treatment of skin cancer, the laser is directed at the skin lesion, or the dermatologist uses the laser to remove the lesion.
Laser-induced interstitial thermotherapy (LITT), or interstitial laser photocoagulation, also uses lasers to treat some cancers. LITT is similar to a cancer treatment called hyperthermia, which uses heat to shrink tumors by damaging or killing cancer cells. Another form of laser treatment is photodynamic therapy (PDT). In PDT, a certain drug, called a photo sensitizer or photosensitizing agent, is injected into a patient and absorbed by cells all over the patient’s body. After a couple of days, the agent is found mostly in cancer cells. Laser light is then used to activate the agent and destroy cancer cells. The photo sensitizer makes the skin and eyes sensitive to light afterwards, so patients are advised to avoid direct sunlight and bright indoor light during that time.