What is a Lancet?

Tracey Parece

A lancet is a double-edged cutting tool that is also known as a scalpel. It is commonly used as a surgical instrument and dissection tool because of its extremely fine and sharp cutting surface. Students may use lancets for the dissection of small animals, such as frogs, fetal pigs, and cats, during the study of biology. Another type of lancet is used in the practice of arts and crafts, and is called a hobby knife. Of note is the fact that only a double-edged scalpel or hobby knife is referred to as a lancet.

Students may use lancets during a dissection, particularly the dissection of small animals.
Students may use lancets during a dissection, particularly the dissection of small animals.

Medical knives like lancets are generally made from 440C stainless steel, although they can be made from other materials. For example, stainless steel instruments cannot be used in conjunction with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine because the magnets would attract the steel. Other materials used for lancets include diamond, titanium, obsidian, and ceramic. Obsidian is a volcanic rock and bladed instruments made from obsidian are significantly sharper than those made from steel. In modern medicine, a laser scalpel is sometimes used in place of a lancet.

A lancet is also known as a scalpel.
A lancet is also known as a scalpel.

Scalpels and lancets were used as early as ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. While the ancient Egyptians used bladed instruments with sharpened obsidian to make incisions for the embalming of the deceased, ancient Romans used them as surgical instruments. The scalpels used in medicine by the ancient Romans were made from bronze, steel, or both.

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Much like a used needle, modern lancets must be disposed of in a puncture-proof sharps container.
Much like a used needle, modern lancets must be disposed of in a puncture-proof sharps container.

Reusable lancets are sterilized in between uses when used as a medical device; disposable lancets may be used once and then discarded. Alternatively, disposable lancets may have a reusable handle with a replaceable blade. A blood lancet is a small bladed instrument often used by diabetics to draw blood for glucose testing. Although it is different from a scalpel, a blood lancet is frequently referred to simply as a lancet. Blood lancets are generally used only once before being discarded.

A blood lancet is often used for blood testing.
A blood lancet is often used for blood testing.

Safety is always a concern when dealing with medical knives. Although modern times have seen an increase in the manufacture of safety lancets, studies have shown that there is actually an increased incidence of injury associated with them compared to traditional scalpels. As with any type of sharp implement, using them safely is the responsibility of the user. The same is true with hobby knives since their blades are extremely sharp — just like those of medical knives. Disposable lancets typically should be discarded in a plastic container specifically made for that purpose to prevent injury and contamination.

A blood lancet is a small bladed instrument that is often used by diabetics to draw blood for glucose testing.
A blood lancet is a small bladed instrument that is often used by diabetics to draw blood for glucose testing.
Stainless steel instruments may not be used in conjunction with an MRI machine.
Stainless steel instruments may not be used in conjunction with an MRI machine.

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Discussion Comments

lluviaporos

I do a fair bit of scrapbooking and I lways used to use scissors whenever I wanted to cut anything. I guess I used them because I had always used them as a child and it never occurred to me to use anything else.

But, I like quite lacy looking designs and it was getting harder and harder to cut them out using the scissors.

Finally I gave in and bought a craft scalpel and I have to say, it is absolutely wonderful. I would never go back to using scissors for this kind of work.

Just make sure you get a scalpel that's easy to hold and that you aren't going to get too cramped using, as paper cutting can take a while.

croydon

@Mor - Yeah, the teachers all take the safety aspect pretty seriously as well. I remember when I was in a biology class a few years ago, a couple of the guys in the class started getting a bit silly with the scalpels.

I think they were doing a miniature sword fight sort of thing, not really being too bad I guess. I don't think they were really in any danger of hurting anyone.

But the teacher basically threw them out of the class and they both had to grovel quite a bit in order to get back in again. He was a pretty good teacher as well, I never thought of him as being that strict, but I guess they really have to make sure no one is going to get hurt.

And those scalpels are sharp enough that one wrong move could seriously injure someone.

So, yeah, don't try to mess around when you are using those things.

Mor

I was always quite nervous when I used my scalpels in biology classes, even though I really enjoyed that class.

The required set of scalpels was in a very nice leather case and it was quite thrilling to put on a white doctor's coat and take out all these different looking pointy things. Made me feel like a mad scientist or something.

Of course, it was a basic class so we only ever used a couple of the scalpels. There was a pack of blades in each kit and we would just replace the blades every time we used one.

It wasn't really necessary since we were only dissecting gross anatomy, but it was good practice I suppose.

But they were really sharp, even the safety lancet, so I was always as careful as possible when I was using.

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