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Laser epilation may reduce pilonidal disease recurrences when added to standard care



The use of laser epilation (LE) as a supplement to standard care significantly reduces recurrence of pilonidal disease, compared with standard care alone, according to the results of a randomized trial.

The study, recently published in JAMA Surgery, enrolled 302 patients ages 11-21 with pilonidal disease. Half of the participants were assigned to receive LE (laser hair removal) plus standard treatment (improved hygiene plus mechanical or chemical hair removal), and half were assigned to receive standard care alone.

At 1 year, 10.4% of the patients who had received LE plus standard treatment had experienced a recurrence of pilonidal disease, compared with 33.6% of patients in the standard treatment group (P < .001). Rates were based on the data available on 96 patients in the LE group and 134 patients in the standard care group.

“These results provide further evidence that laser epilation is safe, well-tolerated, and should be available as an initial treatment option or adjunct treatment modality for all eligible patients,” first author Peter C. Minneci, MD, chair of surgery at Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley, Wilmington, Del, said in a press release reporting the results. “There have been few comparative studies that have investigated recurrence rates after LE versus other treatment modalities,” he and his coauthors wrote in the study, noting that the study “was the first, to our knowledge, to compare LE as an adjunct to standard care versus standard care alone and demonstrate a decrease in recurrence rates.”

Pilonidal disease, a common condition, results when cysts form between the buttocks and is most common in adolescents and young adults. It is thought to recur about 33% of the time, with most cases recurring within 1 year of treatment.

In practice, there are large variations in management strategies for pilonidal disease because evidence for an ideal treatment approach is lacking, Dr. Minneci and coauthors wrote. Although lifestyle modifications and nonepilation hair removal strategies have been linked to a reduced need for surgery, compliance with these strategies is low. Additionally, recurrence contributes to “a high degree of psychosocial stress in patients, who often miss school or sports and may avoid social activities,” Dr. Minneci said in the press release. Therefore, some practitioners have begun using LE – which uses selective thermolysis to remove the hair shaft, follicle, and bulb – as an adjunct to standard treatments in the hopes of avoiding surgery.

A few studies have shown LE is effective in reducing pilonidal disease recurrence, but these studies had small sample sizes, according to the authors.

Study methods

The randomized, nonblinded clinical trial was conducted between 2017 and 2022 at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, and enrolled patients aged 11-21 years with a history of pilonidal disease, who did not have active disease.

Those in the control group (151 patients) had an in-person clinic visit where they received education and training about hair removal in the gluteal cleft, and were provided with supplies for hair removal (chemical epilation or shaving) for 6 months (standard of care). Those in the LE group (151 patients) received standard of care therapy, and also received one LE treatment every 4-6 weeks for a total of five treatments. They were encouraged to perform hair removal using chemical or mechanical depilation between visits.

At the 1-year follow-up, data were available in 96 patients in the LE group and 134 patients in the standard care group. At that time, the proportion of those who had a recurrence within 1 year was significantly lower in the LE group than in the standard care group (mean difference, –23.2%; 95% CI, –33.2% to –13.1%; P < .001).

In addition, over the course of a year, those in the LE-treated group had significantly higher Child Attitude Toward Illness scores, indicating that they felt more positively about their illness at 6 months than participants in the standard care group. There were no differences between the groups in terms of patient or caregiver disability days, patient- or caregiver-reported health-related quality of life, health care satisfaction, or perceived stigma. In the LE group, no burns were reported, and no inability to tolerate treatment because of pain.

The study had several limitations, including the potential for participation bias, and because of a loss to follow-up, primary and secondary outcomes were missing data points, which was higher in the LE group. Loss to follow-up in the LE arm increased after 6 months, when laser treatments ended, with many of those patients not completing surveys at 9 and 12 months. The hospital’s pilonidal clinic shut down for 3 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, and when the clinic reopened, 15 patients in the LE arm withdrew from the study.

|In the press release, Dr. Minneci said that confirmation of the effectiveness of LE could help justify insurance coverage for pilonidal disease, noting that LE is usually not covered with insurance, and a course of treatment could cost $800-$1,500.

Dr. Minneci and four of the other six coauthors reported receiving grants from Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute during the conduct of the study. One author reported receiving grants from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities outside the submitted work. The research was funded by a grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

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