BACKGROUND: A new procedure combining two different lasers can remove growths from the airway of a patient without general anesthesia, and it can be done right in a doctor's office. Before this, the equipment required for the surgery could only be used in the operating room with general anesthesia. The new procedure can be used for most throat surgeries.
HOW IT WORKS: Two different lasers are used in combination. A carbon-dioxide (CO2) laser removes the growth in the voice box and the airway to the lungs. Then a pulsed-dye laser is used to treat the base on the growths so that they don't re-occur. Each laser is guided by a high-resolution video-endoscope and the entire system is delivered to the patient through a tiny tube that is placed in the nose.
WHAT CAUSES GROWTHS: The larynx, or voice box, sits at the back of the throat, just above the windpipe. The vocal cords are elastic bands of tissue attached to the inside of the voice box; as air moves through the windpipe it is pushed through these cords. When the cords contract or relax, this alters the pitch of the sounds they produce. Excessiveness hoarseness, loss of voice, throat pain, or even a constant urge to clear one's throat can indicate a growth or abrasion on the voice box. Small lumps and bumps on the vocal cords can be caused by too much yelling (which may lead to ulcers) or exposure to cigarette smoke. Smoking can also lead to cancerous growths on the larynx.
WHAT ARE LASERS: "Laser" stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It describes any device that creates and amplifies a narrow, focused beam of light whose photons are all traveling in the same direction, rather than emitting every which way at once. Laser light contains only one specific color, or wavelength. Because every photon is traveling in the same direction, the light is tightly focused into a concentrated beam, unlike the light emitted from a flashlight, where the atoms release their photons randomly in all directions.
There are several different types of lasers. Solid-state lasers use crystals, such as ruby. Carbon dioxide lasers emit energy in the far-infrared and microwave regions of the spectrum. This type produces intense heat, and is capable of melting through objects. Conventional diode lasers are the type used in pocket laser pointers and CD and DVD players.
The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.