Laser therapy for lung cancer

A laser is a very thin, focused beam of light that heats and destroys tissue. Lasers can focus very accurately on tiny areas.

You have the treatment in hospital in the endoscopy department or x-ray department. It takes about 30 minutes. 

You can have laser therapy along with other types of lung cancer treatment.

Why you might have laser therapy for lung cancer

You might have laser therapy if your cancer is blocking an airway and making you breathless. It can help you to breathe more easily again.

Before your treatment

Your doctor or specialist nurse explains what happens and how they do the treatment.

They ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the procedure. You can ask them any questions that you have. Tell them about any medicines you are taking.

You shouldn’t eat or drink anything except water for 4 to 6 hours before the treatment. You can drink water until 2 hours beforehand.

A nurse puts a small tube called a cannula into a vein in the back of your hand. They go with you to the endoscopy or x-ray department.

You have a medicine to make you sleepy (sedation) injected through the cannula. Or you might have a general anaesthetic.

When you’re very sleepy or asleep your doctor gently puts a long flexible or rigid tube called a bronchoscope into your airways. The doctor passes a small laser down the bronchoscope tube.

Diagram showing a bronchoscopy

The doctor burns away as much of the tumour as possible with the laser. They then take out the bronchoscopy tube.

After laser therapy

You stay in the endoscopy department or x-ray department until the sedation or anaesthetic wears off. You might feel a bit drowsy and confused for a while but you won’t remember any of the treatment. You might wear an oxygen mask for a short time. A nurse then takes you back to your ward.

You can usually go home that evening.

Side effects of laser therapy

Soreness and pain

You might have a sore throat. Taking painkillers for a few days helps.

Tell your nurse or doctor if you still have pain.


You might have some slight bleeding and have some blood in your sputum (phlegm). It might give you a metallic taste in your mouth. This usually gets better over a few days.

Tell your doctor if you cough up blood.

Possible risks of laser therapy

Laser therapy is a safe treatment. There are usually very few side effects and they tend to be mild. But all treatments have potential risks.

A collapsed lung (pneumothorax)

Air or gas can leak into the space around the lung and make it collapse. This makes you feel very breathless. It can get better on its own or your doctor can put in a small tube to expand the lung again.

Let your doctor know straight away if your breathing gets worse after your treatment.

Chest infection

Let your doctor know if you develop any signs of a chest infection. This includes having a high temperature and your phlegm (sputum) changing colour.

Changes to the airway tissue (wall)

The risk is small, but a hole can happen in the airway tissue (perforation) during laser therapy. Or changes may happen to the airway tissue, such as an ulcer forming.

Your doctor will take extra care to prevent this from happening.

If the cancer blocks the airway again

You can have the treatment again if the tumour starts to block the airway again. Or your doctor might suggest other treatment.

  • Bronchoscopic laser in the management of airway disease in adults

    UpToDate website

    Accessed February 2023

  • Complications of bronchoscopy: A concise synopsis

    D Stahl and others

    International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury Science, 2015. Volume 5, Issue 3, Pages 189 to195

Last reviewed: 
22 Feb 2023
Next review due: 
22 Feb 2026

Related links