One of the most exciting advances in skin cancer has been the laser. Lasers, and other light therapies, have so many uses that make up so much of the modern beauty industry – but the most important is the use that saves lives.
What Are Lasers
Laser is actually an acronym. It stands for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The light is able to be focused on a very precise area with great intensity and is:
- Monochromatic — the radiation is of a single wavelength.
- Coherent — the light beam waves are in phase.
- Collimated — the light beams travel in parallel (Source).
The light is produced within an optical cavity containing a medium, which may be a gas (eg, argon, krypton, carbon dioxide), liquid (eg, dye) or solid (eg, ruby, neodymium:yttrium-aluminium-garnet, alexandrite). The process involves excitation of the molecules of the laser medium, which results in the release of a photon of light as it returns to a stable state. Each medium produces a specific wavelength of light, which may be within the visible spectrum (violet 400 through to red 700 nm) or infrared spectrum (more than 700 nm) (Source).
Different Lasers for Different Uses
Lasers can be divided into two different types: ablative and nonablative. The former takes off the top layers of skin and the latter penetrates into the skin’s deeper layers without removing or altering the surface layers. All lasers are monochromatic, so they only have one wavelength that they emit.This means that different lasers are used for different applications. They operate on ‘selective photothermolysis’ to focus in on and destroy the precise thing they are targeted at. Each of the hundreds of types of lasers fall into one of these two classifications, but each may have its own wavelength – or color of the light. Different wavelengths are good for different skin ailments. Thus, there may be a need to use several different lasers on a skin cancer patient.
As related to skin cancer, pre-cancer, and cancer warnings there are two different laser uses for removal:
- Precancerous Lesions: Almost all surgeons agree that cancerous lesions should be removed via scalpel (with a knife during surgery) to ensure clear borders and complete removal. In addition to making sure a skin cancer has “clear margins,” this assures that there is a sample for a pathologist to look at to determine exactly what the lesion was. By removing precancerous growths, such as actinic keratoses, before they have a chance to become malignant (squamous cell skin cancers), though, lasers are now routinely being used as a preventative measure. Ablative lasers, such as the CO2 and erbium: YAG, are generally chosen to remove these lesions.
- Vascular Lesions: Vascular lesions include broken blood vessels on the face, unsightly spider veins on the legs, spider nevi, hemangiomas, and certain birthmarks such as port wine stains. For these types of skin irregularities, IPL is a common choice, as it is minimally invasive. Also popular for treating these lesions are the pulsed dye, Nd: YAG and diode lasers (Source).
With vascular lesions, the oxygenated haemoglobin that they contain happens to absorb visible light at a very efficient rate, versus pigmented lesions which have melanin and do not absorb light as easily, but do have broad spectrum absorption. As noted in Derm Net:
Infrared lasers are broadly destructive because they are absorbed by water in and between skin cells (these are composed of 70-90% water). The aim is to destroy the target cells and not to harm the surrounding tissue. Short pulses reduce the amount that the damaged cells heat, thereby reducing thermal injury that could result in scarring. Automated scanners aim to reduce the chance of overlapping treatment areas (Source).
Vanquishing Cancer Using Lasers
In addition to treating skin cancer with lasers, all different types of cancers now have hope of treatment. As noted by the National Cancer Institute:
Lasers also may be used to relieve certain symptoms of cancer, such as bleeding or obstruction. For example, lasers can be used to shrink or destroy a tumor that is blocking a patient’s trachea (windpipe) or esophagus. Lasers also can be used to remove colon polyps or tumors that are blocking the colon or stomach. Laser therapy can be used alone, but most often it is combined with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. 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.
Skin cancer is more frequently treated by TSLMS members and those who attend SCALE conferences than any other type of cancer, although our members certainly see clients for reconstruction of features and limbs that have been lost to other types of cancer. In the case of skin cancer, lasers can be used to remove pre-cancerous growths and lesions, as well as cancerous lesions and tumors, and also help to repair the affected areas. Lasers are exceptionally helpful in the treatment of cancers in exceptionally delicate and visible areas that require extra thought toward the aesthetics, such as the eyelids (Source).
As laser technology advances, so will the opportunities to treat patients and save lives. To stay abreast of the latest, attend SCALE 2019 Music City, where a large number of research scientists, clinical experts, and company representatives will be available to answer all of your questions and point you in the right direction to make sure your clinic has the latest laser technology.