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The laser is modern technology's answer to the knife. It will cut a diamond in a second. It can cut the fabric for fifty men's suits in less than an hour. The laser will slice through a steel beam faster than the most powerful saw. But perhaps more exciting is the laser's use in medicine. Recently, surgeons have been swapping their scalpels for surgical lasers. They are finding that this change allows them to perform intricate operations more successfully than before. A laser can remove tumors deep inside the brain. It can cauterize a bleeding stomach ulcer. It has been used on infertile women in tubal reconstruction. Lasers can even be used to remove a tattoo or a birthmark.
The surgical laser is the favorite tool of the eye surgeon. It can remove over-grown blood vessels that are causing glaucoma in a diseased eye. It can also be used to fix a detached retina. The laser's heat welds the retina into place.
What exactly is this new tool of the surgeon? Well, probably the simplest description of a laser is that it is a concentrated beam of light. The laser's radiation is condensed into a single wave length in contrast to the sunlight's radiation which is many different wave lengths. Sunlight spreads out and travels in many directions. The light of the laser travels in only one direction. It travels in a narrow beam, and the sides of the beam stay almost parallel.
The beam of the laser can be focused into a width smaller than a pinpoint. The power of this narrow, concentrated beam is intense and can reach temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Surgeons can manipulate and bend the beam of with fiber optics to guide it exactly to its target.
The surgeon can use the laser as he would his scalpel to remove tissue, but the laser has several advantages over the scalpel. The laser can be bent to get into places the scalpel cannot. The laser can be aimed with more precision than the scalpel, saving nearby healthy tissue and reducing post-operative scarring and complications. The hot light seals the blood vessels and thus prevents bleeding. Laser surgery takes less time than conventional surgery and the patient's recovery is faster.
There is no doubt that the laser will play a major role in surgery in the future. Nowadays, eye, ear, and throat specialists, along with many neurosurgeons, are using lasers the most. But other specialists are exploring the laser's potential. Eventually, all operating rooms will be equipped with lasers, and scalpels may end up in museums.