In Brief
  • Three types of lasers, carbon dioxide, dye, and Nd:YAG could replace the scalpel, and change the way surgeons approach removing tumors.
  • This technique could be remarkably beneficial to patients, as lasers are more accurate than other tools, limit bleeding, and instantly sanitize the surgery site.

Burn ‘Em Up

When we think of cancer surgery, we often imagine surgeons with a scalpel removing tumors. But there’s another way to remove tumors — laser surgery.

There are three kinds of laser surgery treatments. Carbon dioxide lasers treat cancers on the skin or those deep in organ tissue; dye lasers work a little deeper, up to less than three millimeters of tissue; and for even deeper jobs, surgeons use Nd:YAG lasers, which reach the targeted part of the body via fiber optic cable.

Dr. Vincent Ansanelli, who is a breast cancer surgeon at Laser Breast Cancer Surgery in Long Island, is one of the doctors pioneering treatment (and saving lives) using a carbon dioxide laser. With this method, when the laser comes into contact with human tissue, it literally causes the tissue to vaporize. In an interview, Ansanelli notes the benefits of this, saying that, when used in animal studies, the local recurrence rate with the carbon dioxide method was some 30% less than normal.

The laser isn’t just dissecting, it’s destroying tumor cells.

Laser surgeries as a whole are used to treat a wide variety of cancers. They’re commonly used in early cancers close to the skin, like cervical or penile cancer. They are also used in cancers affecting organ linings, such as that of the esophagus or the windpipe. Further, they can even be used in some kinds of lung cancer.

Whichever method is used, laser surgeries have many benefits. To being with, they are more accurate. Lasers seal blood and lymph vessels, limiting bleeding, swelling, and the spread of cancer cells. The heat sanitizes the site, further limiting spread. Only local anesthesia is needed for this kind of surgery, and is often done in an outpatient basis.

Curing Cancer

While these laser methods are allowing us to fight cancer and keep it away as never before, there are a host of other developments that are helping us wage a better war on this lethal disease.

Advances in medicine have spurred many new hopes for both treatment and a cure. These include better diagnosis and better treatment of the disease. Better biological understanding of cancer has allowed us to pinpoint proteins and other chemicals essential to the spread of the disease. This helps us target these chemicals, stymieing cancer’s spread.

Nanoparticle and mini robot treatments are being developed that target cancer cells with a degree of accuracy not possible with a scalpel or chemo. This targeted approach removes most, if not all traces of the cells.

AI has also been trying to work its magic to end cancer. AI seems promising in cancer prevention since it can crunch patient files and research papers in far less time than a doctor. There is no bullet to cancer; all these are just pieces to the puzzle. Ultimately, it will take more funding and research for us to cure “the Big C.”