MONDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Laser-assisted liposuction
might provide an option for people who want stubborn pockets of fat
removed but fear they'll be left with loose skin.
Traditional liposuction, a fat-removing cosmetic surgery
procedure, is generally reserved for people with firm skin to
reduce the risk of sagging afterward. But the addition of lasers
could spur tightening of the skin, researchers say.
The researchers looked at the extent of skin tightening in
nearly 2,200 women and men who received laser liposuction in
various body regions, including the belly, thighs and arms. The
relatively new procedure was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration in 2006.
Three months after laser liposuction, the researchers found that
patients had between 20 percent and 80 percent skin tightening,
meaning their skin contracted to within 20 percent and 80 percent
of what would be expected for the volume of fat removed. The amount
that the skin "bounced back" depended on the elasticity of the skin
to start with and the body area treated.
The amount of skin tightening with laser liposuction is probably
about 50 percent better than what would have been achieved with
traditional liposuction, said Dr. Abbas Chamsuddin, study lead
author and an interventional radiologist at the Center for Laser
and Interventional Surgery in Atlanta.
The researchers did not, however, include a group that received
traditional liposuction for comparison. To see how laser
liposuction stacks up, Chamsuddin would like to conduct another
study in which a second group of patients receives traditional
The study is scheduled for presentation Monday at the annual
meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology in New
The newer form of liposuction also has the potential to remove
more fat than traditional liposuction and lead to less blood loss
because the laser dries the blood vessels, Chamsuddin said.
The procedures for laser and traditional liposuction have
similarities. Both involve injecting a solution into the fat to
numb the area and shrink blood vessels in the region (to reduce
blood loss), and making a cut of about one-tenth of an inch,
Whereas traditional liposuction involves sucking the fat out in
solid form using a hollow pen-like device, laser liposuction melts
the fat with a laser before vacuuming it out with a similar
After the fat removal, doctors use a laser of a different
wavelength that is absorbed by skin cells to create an "artificial
burn" that tells the body to release collagen in the area, which
causes the skin to tighten, Chamsuddin said.
A third type of liposuction, which is more common than laser
liposuction, uses ultrasound to achieve a similar effect of melting
the fat. Chamsuddin said, however, that fat cells absorb the laser
energy better than ultrasonic energy.
The average age of participants in the current study was 38, and
about 75 percent were women, Chamsuddin said. The most common areas
treated were the belly, "love handles," thighs and arms. The volume
of fat removed ranged from 30 percent to 90 percent, depending on
the body area.
A similar amount of fat can be removed with traditional or
ultrasound liposuction, said Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, a professor of
plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center at Dallas.
"The main thing being promoted with laser liposuction is improved skin tightening, but there is not a lot of objective evidence," Kenkel said. Although a previous small study found that skin tightening was about 50 percent better with laser compared to traditional liposuction, the degree of skin tightening was low with both procedures and the difference was probably not meaningful for patients, he said.
"You are going to need firm skin no matter what the procedure," Kenkel said.
Kenkel also is worried about the safety of laser liposuction.
The lasers heat the skin to high temperatures, which can cause
burns and scarring if not used properly, he said.
Chamsuddin thinks the risk of bruising is similar for laser and
traditional liposuction. He thinks that the use of laser leads to
more pain, however, because it causes tissue burns. In his study,
most participants complained of cramping and burning sensations for
several days after the procedure.
Although the price of laser liposuction varies, it is generally
between $2,000 and $4,000 for the arms, belly and thighs. The price
of traditional liposuction can be between $2,000 and $10,000
depending on the body area and facility where it is done, Kenkel
Most health insurance plans do not cover liposuction.
The findings of this study have not been published in a
peer-reviewed medical journal and should be considered
For more information about liposuction, visit the
American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
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