Laser Ablation Therapy

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Some patients with bladder cancer may receive a treatment called laser ablation therapy. Laser ablation therapy can be used to destroy cancer cells and reduce the size of tumors in the bladder. It can also be used to destroy precancerous cells, which are cells that are more likely to develop into cancer cells than healthy cells. Laser ablation therapy treatment can also be used to treat some types of cancer symptoms, such as bleeding or blockage.1,2

How does laser ablation therapy work?

During laser ablation therapy, the healthcare provider uses a special type of powerful infrared light. This thin, focused beam of light is focused on a specific tiny area of cancer cells or other tissue that is being treated. The light is used to burn away those tiny areas of tissue or cells. Because the laser can target in on very small areas of tissue, it can destroy cancer cells while minimizing harm to healthy cells or tissue that surround the cancer cells.1,2

Who can receive it?

For patients with early-stage bladder cancer, laser ablation therapy may be used to treat cancer cells that are located in the urothelium. The urothelium is the thin layer of cells that line the inside of the bladder.1,2

Treating advanced bladder cancer

For people with more advanced bladder cancer that has grown into or beyond the muscle of the bladder wall, laser ablation therapy may be used to help reduce the size of tumors that are causing symptoms such as blockages or bleeding.1,2

In many patients with bladder cancer, laser ablation therapy may be combined with other treatments. These other treatments may include targeted therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy delivered directly into the bladder, systemic chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

What happens during laser ablation therapy?

Laser ablation therapy for bladder cancer is carried out using a cystoscope. A cystoscope is a very thin, flexible tube that is inserted into the patient’s bladder through the urethra, which is the hollow, tube-like organ that connects to the bladder and allows urine to pass out of the body.2

The healthcare provider inserts the laser instrument through the cystoscope and into the patient’s bladder. The instrument is then used to target the laser on the specific area of tissue that needs to be treated.2

The procedure is relatively quick and painless for most patients. However, while the laser is being used to treat affected tissue, the patient may feel a pulsing and/or slight stinging feeling in the bladder area.2

What are the advantages?

Laser ablation therapy has some benefits and advantages over other types of treatment for bladder cancer. For example, laser therapy allows the healthcare provider to use lasers rather than surgery to cut away and remove cells affected by cancer. Lasers can remove tissue in a precise fashion, and the use of lasers seals off blood vessels connected to the affected tissue. This means that many patients may experience less bleeding after laser ablation therapy compared to surgical treatment.1-3

Another benefit of laser ablation therapy is that the procedure does not typically require general anesthesia. For many patients, this speeds up the recovery time and causes less pain after the procedure. One study found that more than 80 percent of patients with bladder cancer who were treated with laser ablation therapy scored their level of pain at 2 (or less) out of 10.3

What are the possible side effects?

Many patients treated with laser ablation therapy for bladder cancer do not experience many major side effects of the treatment. However, it is not uncommon for patients to experience some mild side effects for one or two days after treatment, including:2

These are not all the possible side effects of laser ablation therapy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect with this treatment. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you about laser ablation therapy.

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