We studied light propagation of holmium:YAG laser radiation (λ = 2.12 µm) by measuring the two-dimensional laser beam profile before and after propagation through a tissue sample with a modified fast-temperature-measurement technique. The comparison between water and cartilage tissue allowed us to differentiate between beam broadening caused by formation of a thermal lens and broadening due to light scattering. In water, beam propagation is influenced by formation of thermal lensing, whereas in cartilage the broadening was caused by a combination of light scattering and thermal lensing. Additionally, we discovered that the observed effects are subject to dynamic changes during the laser–tissue interaction.
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