Lasers for Removing Skin Masses

Skin masses in horses have historically been removed by surgical excision (cutting them out). Regardless of the type of mass, the surgeon's goal is to remove all of the tissue, limit hemorrhage, and prevent infection while achieving the best possible cosmetic outcome. Equine surgeons at Purdue University have been using a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser in place of a scalpel blade to remove certain masses in an attempt to minimize complications and improve cosmetic outcome. The CO2 laser transmits minimal heat, which decreases damage to surrounding tissue. It also coagulates small blood and lymphatic vessels, which decreases hemorrhage and post-operative swelling. Finally, CO2 lasers kill microorganisms and help prevent post-operative infection. The surgeons at Purdue recently compiled data from 32 horses which had masses removed with a CO2 laser and evaluated the success rate.

The masses removed included 15 sarcoids, 10 cancerous masses, one benign tumor, and six inflammatory masses. There were no intraoperative complications (disorders affecting the patient during the surgery), but postoperatively the sutures came undone in five horses, leaving the wound open to heal more slowly. This complication was probably not related to the laser treatment itself. Some of the growths eventually returned, which was not unexpected. Still, 81% of the owners said they were satisfied with the cosmetic appearance of the surgical area, and 94% said they would not hesitate to have another laser procedure performed if necessary.

McCauley, C.T.; Hawkins, J.F.; Adams, S.B.; et al. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 228(8), 1192-1197, 2002.

About the Author

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD, is a free-lance writer in the biomedical sciences. She practiced veterinary medicine in North Carolina before accepting a fellowship to pursue a PhD in physiology at North Carolina State University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

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