Cancer treatment is much more than the pamphlets you read or doctors’ offices you visit. It’s the physical pain that radiates through your body at all times of the day. It’s the sleepless nights that are worsened by mental and emotional stress. Cancer treatment is far from easy — and it’s okay to acknowledge how difficult therapy can be, even if you’re grateful that treatment options exist.
The truth is, a disease as aggressive as cancer requires intensive treatment. Cancer therapies can have dozens of unpleasant side effects, from nerve damage and immobility to radiation-induced burns, mouth sores, and more. Cancer patients deserve alternative treatment options that can improve their general quality of life while still actively targeting cancer cells at the source.
Low-level laser therapy is a safe, low-risk treatment option that can help minimize or eliminate a variety of negative cancer treatment side effects for you or someone you love. Now is the time to learn more about how low-level laser therapy can be used in conjunction with current cancer treatment to improve comfort and peace of mind throughout the treatment journey.
What is Low-Level Laser Therapy?
Laser light is very different from normal light. Normal light, like what’s generated by the sun or a light bulb, has several wavelengths that spread in many directions. In comparison, the term ‘laser’ is actually an acronym that’s short for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Laser light has one, high-energy wavelength that’s focused in a very precise, narrow beam.
Low-level laser therapy, also known as cold laser therapy, uses wavelengths of red and infrared light to stimulate cellular healing inside of treated tissue. Unlike natural sunlight, low-level laser light is not warm to the touch and will not burn the skin. When treating localized tissue, it has strong anti-inflammatory properties and can stimulate tissue regeneration and healing.
How Does Laser Therapy Work for Cancer?
In addition to a variety of pain conditions, low-level lasers are primarily used to manage the negative side-effects of conventional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and various targeted or immunotherapy agents used in cancer treatment. Laser therapy is extremely safe to use, does not interact with other medications and therapies, and has a very low risk of side effects.
Laser therapy for cancer treatment typically utilizes two types of devices: a super luminous diode array and a high-intensity laser red and infrared probe.
- Super Luminous Diode Array — Flexible to allow the treatment provider to remain very close to the skin and easily conform to deeply penetrate the targeted tissue.
- High-Intensity Laser Red and Infrared Probe — Smaller to access more sensitive or internal tissues, such as the oral cavity or spine, on a deeper and more targeted level.
Low-level laser therapy can be used in conjunction with existing cancer treatment to reduce or eliminate unpleasant or dose-limiting side effects.
What Cancer Symptoms Respond Well to Laser Therapy?
There have been dozens of medical studies that have sought to quantify the cellular mechanisms of low-level laser therapy use in oncology. With many different types of cancer impacting today’s patients, and several different types of treatment approaches for each patient, researchers are continuing to find additional uses for laser therapy in the field of oncology.
Primary cancer treatment symptoms that have been proven to respond well to laser therapy include chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), lymphedema, radiation-induced burns, and mucositis. Here’s how low-level laser therapy has been shown to help.
1. Peripheral Neuropathy
Many chemotherapy patients are familiar with this common, problematic side effect called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage from a chemotherapy agent. Peripheral neuropathy often accumulates in the hands and feet, causing a lack of sensation or pain, tingling, and burning sensations that progress into the rest of the hands and feet.
This is what’s called a dose-limiting side effect. Peripheral neuropathy can make simple tasks like eating or picking up objects incredibly difficult, causing major quality of life issues. If neuropathy continues to progress, doctors will need to decrease the dose of your chemotherapy agent or discontinue it completely, because this serious negative side effect can become permanent.
Treating neuropathy is important for quality of life and to ensure we’re able to continue to use effective therapies that can damage the cancer itself. There are not many conventional treatments available to prevent neuropathy from happening or to treat it once it does occur — except laser therapy, which can significantly reduce the severity, and in some cases, eliminate it altogether.
Lymphedema is the build-up of lymph fluid in fatty tissues that causes swelling called edema — hence why it’s called lymph-edema. Breast cancer patients are often at high risk of lymphedema due to the surgical removal of some of the lymph nodes in the axilla or the armpit area. Breast cancer patients with lymphedema can experience immense pain and mobility issues.
There are no medications that can be useful for lymphedema, but laser therapy is an incredibly effective tool. There is significant laser research, and I’ve seen this work in practice. I’ve seen dramatic regressions of lymphedema over a period of weeks of using low-level laser therapy, sometimes to the point of complete regression that involves a massive reduction in pain.
3. Radiation-Induced Burns
Radiation is good at killing cancer cells, but it also kills all of the other healthy cells it touches. Many patients who received localized radiation for cancer treatment or prevention of recurrence of cancer have noticed redness, irritation, and actual wounds over top of the tissue that had the radiation therapy applied to it.
Cold laser therapy can help protect healthy tissue and still preserve the ability of therapies like radiation that damage tumor tissue. We see significant improvements in recovery times, heal wounds much faster, drastically reduce pain and inflammation, and help people get their quality of life back much quicker with laser therapy than letting the body try to heal it on its own.
Mucositis is a common negative side effect that occurs with radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted immunotherapy agents. These treatments cause inflammation and irritation that impact the oral cavity inside of the mouth. These impacts typically display as mouth sores and dryness as well as difficulty swallowing, which can be a major quality of life problem in itself.
Over the years, I’ve utilized low-level laser therapy over a period of weeks with several patients and have been able to not only reduce the severity of mucositis and inflammation but also completely remove it. There’s no other therapy that really works quite as well for such a common side effect like mucositis, and several studies have proven its safety and effectiveness.
What to Expect for Laser Treatment?
Laser treatment can substantially improve or eradicate several negative side effects of traditional cancer therapies, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Primarily, low-level laser therapy can reduce pain, numbness, and inflammation that’s associated with common side effects like peripheral neuropathy and lymphedema, as well as protect healthy tissue that receives cancer treatment.
With laser treatment, you can expect a reduction in negative side effects such that you do not need to decrease the dose of your chemotherapy agent or discontinue it completely. This way, you can improve your quality of life during cancer treatment, all while making sure you can continue to use effective therapies that do not stimulate the growth of cancer cells.
Is Low-Level Laser Safe to Use with Active Cancer?
Yes, low-level laser therapy is safe to use with active cancer. We have reviewed significant evidence over the last several years that have utilized a laser therapy device in conjunction with conventional treatments over top of areas where there was active cancer still detectable inside that tissue.
What those research trials show conclusively was not only did using the laser therapy result in the improvements in all of those symptoms and quality of life problems that we were talking about, but it involved no change to the growth of the tumors at the same time.
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Cancer treatment is hard on the body. Connect with a provider who can assess your treatment protocol and improve your quality of life.