Abstract Transient cavitation seems to be a very important effect regarding the interaction of pulsed high-energy ultrasound with biologic tissues. Using a newly developed laser optical system we are able to determine the life-span of transient cavities (relative error less than ±5%) in the focal region of a lithotripter (Lithostar, Siemens tm ). The laser scattering method is based on the detection of scattered laser light reflected during a bubble's life. This method requires no sort of sensor material in the pathway of the sound field. Thus, the method avoids any interference with bubble dynamics during the measurement. The knowledge of the time of bubble decay allows conclusions to be reached on the destructive power of the cavities. By combining the results of life-span measurements with the maximum bubble radius using stroboscopic photographs we found that the measured time of bubble decay and the predicted time using Rayleigh's law only differs by about 13% even in the case of complex bubble fields. It can be shown that the laser scattering method is feasible to assess cavitation events quantitatively. Moreover, it will enable us to compare different medical ultrasound sources that have the capability to generate cavitation.