Surgical lasers have many applications in the medical sciences. They’re used in angioplasties to help widen coronary arteries that have been constricted by plaque and in ophthalmology to preserve and improve eyesight. They’re also used in cancer treatments, dermatology and cosmetic surgery.
The First Use of Surgical Lasers
Believe it or not, the first recorded use of lasers in a medical context was tattoo removal. In 1967, a dermatologist named Dr. Leon Goldman used a 694 Ruby laser and an ND: YAG laser to obliterate a patient’s unwanted ink. The use of this technology was so painful that the patient required general anesthesia and developed severe scarring afterwards. However, the path was now open for other dermatologists to begin developing more effective lasers that could be used to remove unwanted disfigurements such as birthmarks, stretch marks, acne scars and even spider veins.
The Advantages of Laser Surgery
One of the great advantages of laser surgery is that incisions made with a laser do not vary. While even the steadiest surgeon’s hand may falter infinitesimally, a laser gives off a constant beam of light, which means that any incision created by a laser is of uniform depth from beginning to end.
Another advantage to laser surgery is that the heat of the beam cauterizes as it moves across flesh, which greatly decreases bleeding from underlying capillaries and small blood vessels. This heat does not transfer to nearby cells, however. This makes laser surgery ideal when a surgeon is excising a tiny growth or tumor that is surrounded by healthy tissue that the surgeon does not want to damage.
Lasers in Cardiac Surgery
One of the areas where lasers have really transformed the state of the art is cardiac surgery. As recently as a decade ago, the most common method of cleaning out clogged arteries involved a lengthy and risky operation in which the chest was opened. Today, surgeons can thread a laser attached to a fiber-optic array into a brachial blood vessel, advance that array toward a clogged cardiac artery and activate the laser to burn away the plaque clogging the inside of that artery.