Laser therapy uses high-intensity light for the treatment of lung cancer. The word LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers can be used to shrink or destroy tumors or precancerous growths. They also may be used to relieve certain symptoms of cancer, such as bleeding or obstruction.
The precision of laser therapy can be an ideal treatment for lung cancer patients as there are many sensitive tissues and vital organs that surround the lungs. Laser therapy can be used alone, but most often it is combined with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
How Laser Therapy for Lung Cancer is Performed
Laser therapy is often given through a flexible endoscope (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— in the case of lung cancer, the mouth— and the laser light precisely cuts or destroys the tumor.
Lasers are more precise than standard surgical tools (scalpels), so they do less damage to normal tissues. As a result, patients usually have less pain, bleeding, swelling, and scarring. With laser therapy, operations are usually shorter. In fact, laser therapy can often be done on an outpatient basis. It takes less time for patients to heal after laser surgery, and they are less likely to get infections.
Types of Lasers Used for Lung Cancer Laser Therapy
Three types of lasers are used to treat lung cancer:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers
- Argon lasers
- Neodymium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers
CO2 and argon lasers can cut the skin’s surface without going into deeper layers. So, they can be used to remove cancers on the surface of the body, such as skin cancer.
The Nd:YAG laser is more often used through an endoscope to treat internal organs. Nd:YAG laser light can also travel through optical fibers into specific areas of the body during LITT.
Argon lasers are often used in photodynamic therapy.
Using photodynamic therapy (PDT) as a cancer treatment involves using a drug along with a specific type of laser light to kill cancer cells. The drug, which is not active until light exposure, is injected into the patient's vein. The drug collects primarily in cancerous cells rather than in normal cells. Then, fiber optic tubes carry the laser light to the cancer cells, where they are activated and kill the cells.
Photodynamic therapy causes very little damage to healthy tissue. Its primary use is to treat tumors on or just under the skin or in the lining of internal organs. When a tumor is in the airways, PDT is given directly to the tumor through an endoscope.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Lung Cancer Laser Therapy
There are both advantages and disadvantages in regards to treating lung cancer with lasers rather than standard surgical tools. Since every patient’s case differs, it is important to discuss the pros and cons of laser therapy with your doctor to see if it’s the right course of treatment for you.
Advantages of Laser Therapy
When cutting tissue, lasers seal the cut from bleeding, so they may cause less damage to normal tissues when used in surgery. As a result, you usually have less pain, bleeding, swelling, and scarring.
The time in surgery is also usually shorter. In fact, laser therapy can often be done on an outpatient basis. It takes less time to heal after laser surgery, and you are less likely to get an infection.
Disadvantages of Laser Therapy
There aren’t a large number of surgeons who are trained for this type of lung cancer treatment. Surgeons must have special training before they can do laser therapy and strict safety measures must be followed. To be trained, a facility with the correct equipment is needed. There aren’t an extensive number of facilities set up for the training because of the specialized equipment that’s needed.
For some, the effects of laser therapy aren’t long-lasting, which can mean repeat treatments are needed to get the full benefit.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy is often used on lung cancer patients whose tumor is blocking the airway, making it difficult to breathe. Treating the blockage with a laser can help you to breathe more easily again.
Learn more about other lung cancer treatments.