Laser, an acronym of "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation," seems to be everywhere in contemporary medical treatment, but it has only been in general use since the 1960s. Lasers are now used routinely in an array of surgeries: eye, skin, gallbladder, gynecological, prostate, liver, even brain. Laser surgery offers pinpoint accuracy and accelerated healing capability.
An Early Theory
The history of laser surgery goes back to 1917 when Albert Einstein theorized about stimulated emission of radiation. It was only a matter of time before other scientists took up this work and created the first laser. In 1953, Charles Townes produced the first "maser" using microwave rather than infrared or visible radiation. By 1960, the first working laser was demonstrated by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California
A Solution Looking for a Problem
When lasers were first invented, it was unclear how this new technology would be used. But soon many different industries began to test this technology on problems in their own fields. Heavy industry began using it for cutting, welding, heat treatment and parts identification. Defense manufacturers used it in their electronics for marking targets, disabling the enemy and munitions guidance. In consumer products, lasers were used in printers, CD players, scanners and pointers. And in the medical field, the use of lasers assisted in bloodless surgery and surgery without anesthesia. Soon kidney stone treatment, eye treatment and dentistry followed. Today, almost every area of medical practice uses laser in some area of treatment
Beginnings of Laser Surgery
Soon after its introduction in 1960, the laser began to be experimented with for medical use. In 1962, a doctor tried using the laser to resurface skin to remove a tattoo. It worked but left too much of a scar. Since then, the laser has been refined to the point where its use in skin resurfacing is commonplace. One by one, medical specialties explored this new technology to assist in delicate operations for all kinds of conditions.
Laser Surgery Today
Corrective eye surgery using lasers is done in almost every city around the world. In cancer treatment, the laser's pinpoint accuracy makes it a valuable tool in removing tumors. Dentistry is currently exploring how lasers can increase accuracy in oral surgery and reduce healing time. In large hospitals, laser surgery is used in many situations for its pinpoint accuracy, its speedy healing and its minimal scarring.
Tomorrow's Laser Surgery
Lasers are now being tested for use in thoracic surgery in lung cancer patients, and for removal of tumors from the tracheobronchial tree and esophagus. Laser use in unblocking arteries in the heart is also being tested. The use of lasers will no doubt expand even further in the medical field in the future, touching all medical specialties and requiring surgeons worldwide to be trained in their use.
- Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough