The fiber used to channel the laser typically lasts four hours, tops, before the laser burns through it and it needs to be replaced, says Bruce Haughey, director of head and neck surgical otolaryngology at Barnes–Jewish Hospital in Saint Louis. He notes that the scalpel's fibers can be replaced in a matter of minutes, however, it also takes longer to make incisions using the BeamPath than it does using straight, line of sight CO2 lasers, because the new technology delivers only about 20 watts, half the cutting power that surgeons wield with the older variety.
Haughey, who has performed about 100 surgeries since 2007 with the BeamPath, says he uses the device to remove tumors—to do minimally invasive microsurgery on patients who would otherwise have had to go under the knife to have malignancies removed from hard-to-reach spots, such as the base of the tongue, the mouth floor, or the side walls of the pharynx (the part of the neck and throat directly behind the mouth and nasal cavity). Haughey says that the flexible BeamPath fiber extends the reach of the laser scalpel in close quarters, easily and safely negotiating healthy tissue to reach targeted growths. To do that in the past, "we could rather crudely bounce the laser off a mirror, but (the beam) lost a lot of power that way," he says, adding that he did that only once or twice out of the thousands of surgeries he has performed.
BeamPath is now primarily used by orthopedic as well as ear, nose and throat surgeons, but Schindel says that gynecologists, pulmonologists and urologists are also interested in seeing if this technology can make the cut.