Laser Therapy: What You Should Know

Laser therapy is a tool that physicians and surgeons can use to treat a variety of conditions. "Laser" stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." It uses intense beams of light to remove tissue. Laser therapy can have many uses in medical and cosmetic procedures.

This article will review laser therapy, its uses, how to prepare for a laser procedure, risks associated with laser therapy, and how to recover.

Laser eye surgery

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What Is Laser Therapy?

Laser therapy uses a tight, concentrated light beam of specific wavelengths to perform surgical procedures in areas that need a lot of detail or concentration. There are multiple types of lasers that can be used, including:

  • Gases, such as argon or carbon dioxide
  • Crystals
  • Chemicals
  • Diodes

Ordinary light has many different wavelengths. To produce a beam of laser light, ordinary light is passed through a specific medium (gas, crystal, chemical, or diode). The medium determines what wavelength the laser will produce, and the peaks and valleys of the light waves are all lined up. This beam is high in energy and, depending on the wavelength, will be absorbed by the targeted tissue.

Laser Therapy Uses

Laser therapy has uses in many areas of medicine, including the treatment of cancer, sealing blood vessels, eye surgery, and skin treatments.

Cancer Treatment

Several types of cancer can be treated with laser therapy. It is often used when a precancerous or cancerous lesion is on the surface of tissue inside the body, such as in the lungs or esophagus. The purpose of using laser therapy is to treat cancer locally, before it has spread into other areas of the body.

Some examples of precancerous lesions that can be removed with laser therapy are located in the following areas:

Lasers can also be helpful in treating more advanced cancers, especially if part of a tumor is causing a blockage.

In lung cancer, for example, a tumor may be large and located in one of the major airways, preventing air from getting into the lung. Laser treatment to remove some of the cancerous tissue can be helpful in opening up the airway, even if the entire tumor can’t be removed.

Blood Vessels

Lasers can be used to treat blood vessels in multiple ways. This includes blood vessels that are close to the surface of the skin, such as broken capillaries, or larger veins, such as varicose veins (enlarged and cord-like veins) in the legs.

Additionally, lasers can be used to treat areas inside the body that are bleeding, such as ulcers or polyps (benign growths). The laser can seal the blood vessels and stop the bleeding.

Eye Surgery

Multiple eye surgical procedures use lasers, as they can be precise and treat very small areas with accuracy. 

One of the most common eye surgeries using a laser is done to correct and improve vision. This surgery is laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK). Other eye surgeries or procedures that use lasers can include:

  • Treating glaucoma (a group of conditions in which increased pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve)
  • Removing cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)
  • Repairing the retina (the light-sensing layer at the back of the eye), such as if the retina has a tear or has become detached

Skin Treatment

Lasers are frequently used in skin treatments, not only for the treatment of superficial skin cancers or precancers, but also for cosmetic reasons. Some of the skin treatments that use lasers include improvement of:

  • Birthmarks
  • Scars
  • Stretch marks
  • Wrinkles
  • Redness
  • Sun damage
  • Hair removal

Who Shouldn’t Have Laser Therapy?

The answer of who should not have laser therapy is based on the type of procedure that is being done. The choice of using laser therapy to treat any medical condition should be discussed with your treating healthcare provider. 

It is important that your treating provider is aware of your previous health history and any other medical problems you may be experiencing. They should also be made aware of previous surgeries that you have had.

Preparation

How to prepare for laser treatment varies based on the procedure being done. There may be restrictions on eating or drinking before the procedure, especially if it requires any type of sedation.
If laser therapy will be performed using sedation, make sure you have a driver to take you home. 

Some laser therapy procedures may require you to stop using lotions, perfumes, or makeup for a time before surgery.

The healthcare provider performing your laser therapy should provide specific instructions on preparing for the procedure. If you haven’t gotten them or have any questions, call the medical office for specifics.

Benefits of Laser Therapy

Laser therapy offers many benefits. Laser therapy may provide better results than a standard surgical procedure based on where on the body the procedure is performed. Laser procedures generally are safe to do and are often well-tolerated, without many side effects.

Because laser therapy does not require large incisions and can treat any bleeding while the procedure is being performed, there is often less pain from laser therapy compared to traditional surgery. The areas it's used on can also heal more quickly and can experience less scarring.

Risks

As with any medical procedure, laser therapy is not completely without risk. Risks associated with laser therapy can include:

  • Pain 
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Changes to skin color
  • Scarring

Recovery

The length of time for recovery and the recovery process will depend on the type of laser therapy that was performed. However, when compared to traditional surgical procedures, recovering from laser therapy can be less painful and quicker, as less damage occurs to the tissue surrounding the area being treated.

Summary 

Laser therapy is a commonly used treatment that has a wide range of uses in medicine. Lasers can be used for many medical procedures, from treating serious diseases such as cancer to performing cosmetic procedures. The focus of a laser can help reduce damage to surrounding tissues, which can make recovery quicker and less painful.

A Word From Verywell

Laser therapy may be a good option to treat a medical condition you’re experiencing. Your treating healthcare team should provide you with any instructions on how to prepare for the procedure and tips for recovering from it. But if you still have questions, be sure to ask. Laser therapy generally is well tolerated and often has a quick recovery time. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does laser therapy cost?

    The cost of laser therapy varies based on what treatment is being performed. If it is considered a medical necessity, it may be covered and paid for by insurance. Cosmetic procedures are often paid for out of pocket.

  • How effective is laser therapy?

    Laser therapy can be very effective in treating specific areas while leaving surrounding tissue untouched.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Food and Drug Administration. Frequently asked questions about lasers.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Laser surgery overview.

  4. National Cancer Institute. Lasers to treat cancer.

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Endovenous laser varicose vein surgery.

  6. American Cancer Society. How lasers are used to treat cancer.

  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. LASIK.

  8. MedlinePlus. Glaucoma.

  9. American Academy of Opthalmology. Traditional cataract surgery vs. laser-assisted cataract surgery.

  10. National Eye Institute. Laser surgery and freeze treatment for retinal tears.

  11. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Laser/light therapy.

  12. Food and Drug Administration. What should I expect before, during, and after surgery?

  13. Azadgoli B, Baker RY. Laser applications in surgeryAnn Transl Med. 2016;4(23):452. doi:10.21037/atm.2016.11.51

  14. Food and Drug Administration. Medical lasers.

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.