What is Photodynamic Therapy?

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

PDT involves the administration of a drug that is activated by light, usually from a laser of light emitting diode (LED). The activated drug destroys cancer cells whilst limiting harm to normal tissues. When activated, the drug can also expose cancers by showing up as localised fluorescence in the tumor, which is called 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. However, when used to treat skin the light sensitiser is applied in creams, therefore no general sunlight sensitivity occurs.

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 May 2020