In earlier days, to get rid of precancer, the only real option to get rid of it was to operate and remove the precancerous growth via scalpels, hoping that the excision would remove all of it. Fortunately, today, we have many more options at our disposal in order to get rid of precancerous growths before they become skin cancers. One such way is via laser surgery.
How Does Laser Surgery Work?
Laser surgery, also known as “laser therapy,” involves focusing a precise, intense beam of light onto a precancerous skin growth, such as an actinic keratosis, in order to shrink or destroy it before it possibly becomes skin cancer.1 This laser light is known as a “LASER,” which stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.”2 It is quite powerful because of its single wavelength.
Laser surgery can be used to treat cancer, including precancer. It is most commonly used to treat cancers that are on the surface of the body, including basal cell skin cancer and the earliest stages of various cancers.3 The type of laser that is used for this procedure is a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser, as it can easily remove thin layers of skin from the surface with little loss of blood by the patient.
Benefits of Laser Surgery
There are many benefits of laser surgery. Lasers are much more precise than scalpels and other standard operating tools; as a result, lasers do considerably less damage to normal tissues.3 This benefits the patient because he or she has less swelling, scarring, and bleeding at the point where the laser makes contact with the skin, which in turn leads to less pain and faster recovery from the surgery.
Additionally, patients are much less likely to have infections after undergoing laser surgery. This is for two reasons:
- As mentioned above, the laser is very precise in its cutting, which leads to few other tissues being affected.
- The laser produces heat, which helps to clean and sterilize the edges of the body tissue that the laser is cutting through.
This enables doctors to operate on multiple skin lesions if the patient has several actinic keratoses, something that would be impossible or ill-advisable for procedures involving scalpels and other conventional operating tools. Therefore, laser surgery is an especially good option for those people who spent a great deal of time in the sunshine throughout their lives and now have several precancerous skin lesions on their bodies.
All of these advantages usually make the operating time for the procedure much shorter than if scalpels or other tools were being used to conduct the operating procedure. In fact, many laser surgery procedures can be done in outpatient settings.
Another benefit of laser surgery is that it can be used in conjunction with other precancer treatments. Many doctors will employ this approach to give their patients the best chances of overcoming precancer before it becomes cancer.
Disadvantages of Laser Surgery
As with virtually every precancer treatment, there are also some disadvantages when it comes to laser surgery. One such disadvantage is that there are relatively few doctors and nurses that have been trained to use lasers. Part of the reason is because the laser is still not used regularly to handle many procedures, including treating precancer. As a result, your options for choosing which doctor will perform the procedure are limited.
Lasers also cost a considerable amount of money to use because of the equipment that is needed to make the laser possible. In addition, stringent safety precautions must be followed in the operating room where the laser is located. Eye protection is a must for both the patient and the operating team.
While not common, it is possible that the patient will have some scarring or alteration of the skin at or near the point where the laser makes contact with the skin.4 This is more likely if the patient has a local infection at or near the point on the skin where the laser will make contact.
Another disadvantage with laser surgery is that the results may not last for too long, so the procedure may have to be repeated. Plus, lasers sometimes can’t get all of the cancer in one treatment, so multiple treatments may be needed to totally eliminate the precancer.
A final disadvantage with laser surgery is that it can only be applied to precancers that reside on the surface of the skin, such as actinic keratoses.5 Any precancerous lesions that reside under the skin will have to be treated via another option, as lasers should not be used to penetrate too deeply into the skin.
Laser Surgery Can Be Quite Effective Against Precancer
Laser surgery provides patients who are dealing with precancerous skin lesions, such as actinic keratoses, with a more precise and less painful option than scalpels and other conventional operating tools. The laser can be targeted to slice off the top layers of skin where the lesions reside. Combined with less damage to other tissues and quicker recovery times, laser surgery gives patients dealing with precancer another option to prevent the precancer from becoming cancer.
1 Skin Cancer: Treatments and drugs – MayoClinic.com. (2010, August 18). From MayoClinic.com: www.mayoclinic.com/health/skin-cancer/DS00190/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
2 Lasers in Cancer Treatment. (2010, August 3). From American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/lasers-in-cancer-treatment
3 Lasers in Cancer Treatment – National Cancer Institute. (2004, August 10). From National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/lasers