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Photodynamic Therapy : Costs, Side Effects & Recovery

  • Posted on- Apr 18, 2018
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Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is usually given in two stages.

First, the patient is given a light-sensitive drug. For skin cancers, it may be a cream. For internal cancer, it may be an injection into a vein, or sometimes a drink. After the patient had the drug, he will need to wait for it to build up in the cancer cells before having the second stage. This could be a few hours or a few days.

Stage 2 involves a special light (usually a laser) being shown on to cancer. The light activates the drug to treat the tumor. If the cancer is internal, an ultrasound or scan may be used to deliver the light to the tumor.

The possible side effects depend on which part of the body is treated, the drugs used, and your reaction. The patient may become sensitive to light for a time and will need to take care in the sun, or other bright lights.

How Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) works?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that uses a light-sensitive drug and a laser or light source to destroy cancer cells.

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The drug is attracted to the cancer cells. But it does not become active in these cells until a light is shone on it. Using a certain light or laser will activate the drug to release a type of oxygen that kills the nearby cancer cells.

Some healthy, normal cells in the body will also be affected by PDT, but these cells usually recover after treatment.

When is Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) used?

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) can be used to treat some types of cancer. These include:

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) can also be used when cancer or affected area is on, or near, the lining of internal organs.

When Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is used to treat early-stage cancers, the aim is to try to cure cancer. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) can sometimes be used to treat small, early lung cancers in people who can't have surgery.

It may also be given alongside surgery, as part of a clinical trial, to treat a type of brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme.

When Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is used for more advanced cancers, the aim is to shrink cancer and reduce symptoms. It can sometimes be used to relieve breathlessness and improve swallowing in people with advanced cancer of the lung or the gullet (esophagus).

Treating pre-cancerous conditions

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Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is also used to treat some pre-cancerous conditions, including:

  • Barrett's esophagus – where the cells of the esophagus (gullet) grow abnormally.
  • Bowen's disease – where the cells in the outer layer of the skin grow abnormally.
  • Actinic keratoses – scaly dry patches of skin caused by sun damage.

Some research studies have used Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) to treat pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the vagina, anus and vulva.

How is Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) given?

The treatment is normally given in two stages.

Stage 1

The first stage of treatment is when the patient is given the light-sensitive drug. If the patient is having skin cancer, the drug is usually applied to the skin as a cream.

For cancers that are inside the body, the drug may be given as an injection into a vein (intravenously). Occasionally it is given as a drink.

Once the patient had the drug, there is a delay before the second stage of treatment. This allows time for the drug to build up in the cancer cells.

The time the patient waits after having the drug may be a few hours or a few days. This will depend on the type of cancer the patient has and its treatment. The patient will usually be able to go home during this time.

There are different types of light-sensitive drug. The most common are:

  • 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA)
  • temoporfin (Foscan®)
  • porfimer sodium (Photofrin®)

The drug used will depend on the type of cancer the patient has and which is best for the situation. The doctor or nurse will explain more about this and tell the patient how the drug is given.

Stage 2

The second stage of treatment involves shining a laser, or sometimes a non-laser, light on to cancer or the affected area.

For treatment of the skin, the light is shone straight on to the skin. For cancers inside the body, a flexible tube (endoscope) may need to be passed into your body to guide the light to the affected area. A scan or ultrasound may be used to help direct the light to the right part of the body.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) for Head & Neck Cancer

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) may be used for early-stage cancers of the head and neck to try to cure cancer. It is usually given as part of a clinical trial. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) can also be used in advanced cancer to shrink the tumor and reduce symptoms.

First, the patient has the light-sensitive drug as an injection through a small tube (cannula) inserted into a vein. This takes a few minutes and then the tube is removed.

You will have to wait up to four days before having the second stage of your treatment (when the light is directed at the cancer cells). Your doctor will tell you when you need to come back to the hospital for this.

Usually, only one treatment is given, although some people need a second treatment a few weeks later.

PDT for Lung Cancer

PDT to your lung can make you sensitive to light for up to a month. You will be given specific advice from your treatment team on how to protect yourself from the sun and other strong lights. It is important to follow the advice carefully to avoid burning your skin.

You may cough up more sputum (mucus), and it may be bloodstained. You may also have some pain in the part of the chest that has been treated. Let your doctor know if you have any pain and they can prescribe painkillers.

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