What is Photodynamic Therapy?

Many of us fear the word cancer, the second most common cause of death in Scotland, with 30,000 new cases diagnosed yearly. Some are curable but, for others, effective treatments have not yet been found.

Standard cancer treatments fall into three types: surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. It is widely accepted that their side-effects are a major problem.

PDT involves the administration of a drug that is activated by light, usually from a laser. The activated drug destroys cancer cells usually without harming normal tissues. When activated, they can also expose cancers by fluorescence – the emission of light – hence the term photodiagnosis (PD).

In contrast to the standard types of treatment, there is no limit to the number of treatments of PDT that can be given and, although there may be localised discomfort, in most cases side-effects are fairly mild. A few patients experience a sunburn-type of reaction if their skin is exposed to sunlight while the light-sensitive drug is still circulating in their body.

PDT offers the ability to treat areas not reachable by surgery as well as the option of re-treatment.

NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) has issued guidance supporting the use of PDT for high grade dysplasia in Barrett’s oesophagus, advanced bronchial carcinoma, bile duct cancer, brain tumours, early oesophageal cancer, localised inoperable endobronchial cancer, non-melanoma skin cancer, palliative advanced oesophageal cancer, and some head and neck cancer. Some of these treatments require special arrangements or should be conducted as part of a trial.

Updated 2017