This page is about laser treatment for cancer. There is information about
- A quick guide to what's on this page
- What laser treatment is
- Which cancers can laser therapy treat?
- Where you have laser treatment
- Laser therapy for changes on the cervix, vagina or vulva
What laser treatment is
A laser is a very thin, focused beam of light which heats the tissue it is directed at. The laser beams burn away abnormal or cancerous cells. This is called laser ablation. It can destroy small areas of precancerous cells and shrink or destroy tumours. For advanced cancer it can relieve some cancer symptoms such as bleeding or blockage.
Surgeons can also use lasers instead of scalpels during surgery. An advantage of using a laser is that it seals off the blood vessels as it cuts so there is very little bleeding.
How you have laser treatment
Doctors use lasers to treat some types of early cancer on the surface of the body. These include cancer of the neck of the womb (cervical cancer), penile cancer, and cancers of the vagina and vulva. It can also treat melanoma of the eye. You may have this type of laser treatment as an outpatient. You may need a local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic.
To reach internal cancers or cut away a cancer causing a blockage doctors put a tube inside your body and put the laser through the tube. For example they use an endoscopy for cancers in the food pipe or stomach and a bronchoscopy for lung cancers. You may need a local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic for this type of laser treatment.
Side effects of laser treatment
The side effects of laser treatment depend on the area of the body being treated. Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you information about the side effects of laser therapy for your type of cancer.
You can view and print the quick guide for the laser treatment section.
A laser is a very thin, focused beam of light which heats the tissue it is directed at. It stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Lasers can focus very accurately on tiny areas.
Doctors can use laser beams to burn away abnormal or cancerous cells and they call this laser ablation. Laser ablation can
- Destroy small areas of precancerous cells
- Shrink or destroy tumours
- Relieve some cancer symptoms such as bleeding or blockage
Surgeons can also use lasers instead of scalpels during surgery. The lasers can cut through body tissue very precisely. It is a type of laser surgery. An advantage of using a laser is that it seals off the blood vessels as it cuts so there is very little bleeding.
Doctors may use laser therapy on its own. But they may also combine it with other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy.
Lasers on their own are used to treat the very early stages of some cancers close to the surface of the body. These cancers include cervical cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer, vulval cancer, and melanoma of the eye.
Lasers are also used to treat some advanced cancers on the lining of internal organs such as the food pipe (oesophagus) or the windpipe (trachea). Sometimes laser surgery may be used to treat the early stages of non small cell lung cancer.
For basal cell skin cancer, laser treatment is combined with a light sensitive drug. The procedure is called photodynamic therapy.
You have laser therapy in hospital. For penile cancer or cervical, vaginal or vulval changes you usually have the laser therapy in the outpatient department. For internal cancers you may have treatment as an outpatient or in the operating theatre.
The doctor uses a laser to burn away the abnormal cells. First, you lie on a couch, with your legs raised up in stirrups. The doctor puts a speculum into your vagina to hold it open and then puts local anaesthetic onto your cervix or vaginal wall to numb the area. They then point the laser beam at the abnormal areas. The laser burns away the abnormal area. So you may notice a slight burning smell during the treatment. This is nothing to worry about. It is just the laser working. You can usually go home as soon as this treatment is over.
This treatment is only used for very early cancer of the penis. The surgeon uses a powerful beam of light that acts like a knife. It cuts away the tumour but does not go too deep into the tissue. You have this treatment under a general anaesthetic.
Laser treatment can treat very early cancers. The laser cuts or burns away the cancerous tissue. For advanced cancers laser therapy can shrink or destroy tumours that cause a blockage in the body.
Laser therapy can treat cancers in the
- Windpipe (trachea) or lung airway (bronchus)
- Food pipe (oesophagus)
- Voice box (larynx)
- Head and neck area, such as the tonsil, mouth, and nasal sinuses
To reach internal tumours doctors use a tube put inside the body. For example for lung cancer or voice box (laryngeal) cancer the doctor uses a bronchoscopy to position the laser. Or for cancers in the food pipe or stomach you have an endoscopy. The tube has a light at the end and an eyepiece so the doctor can see any abnormal areas. The doctor positions the end of the tube close to the tumour. For early cancers you usually have a general anaesthetic and the surgeon uses the laser to cut away the areas of cancer. This type of laser therapy may be called endoscopic resection.
For advanced cancers causing a blockage you may have a local or general anaesthetic. The doctor then puts the tube into the body and close to the cancer. The laser burns away some of the tumour or all of it. This reduces the blockage or gets rid of it completely. The treatment is called laser ablation.
Laser therapy destroys the cancer cells in the liver by heating them to high temperatures. It is another type of internal laser treatment. It is called laser induced interstitial thermotherapy (LITT) or interstitial laser photocoagulation. You usually have a sedative that makes you feel drowsy but some people have a general anaesthetic. If you just have sedation, your doctor injects a local anaesthetic into the skin of your abdomen to numb it. After the anaesthetic the doctor pushes a flexible optical fibre tube through the skin over the liver and into the centre of the tumour.
The doctor uses a CT scan or ultrasound scan to make sure the tip of the tube is in the right place. Then the laser heats the tumour and destroys it. The process takes about 10 to 15 minutes and can treat tumours up to 5cm (2 inches) in size. You can have treatment for more than one tumour if necessary. Usually, you can go home a few hours afterwards. You may need to have the treatment repeated. The main side effects are pain and a high temperature for a few days afterwards.
The side effects of laser treatment depend on whether it is being used for surgery or to destroy cancer cells. It also depends on the area of the body being treated. Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you information about the side effects in your particular case.
There is more information about laser therapy for other cancers at the links below
- Laser surgery for tonsil cancer
- Laser treatment for voicebox cancer
- Laser surgery for mouth and oropharyngeal cancer
- Laser surgery for nasal and paranasal sinus cancers
- Laser treatment for a blocked airway
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