Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a medical treatment used to treat precancerous cells, as well as other conditions. It can be used on the skin, eyes, mouth and lungs. The treatment involves using a medicine, such as Levulan Kerastick®, either topically or inside the body, followed by a blue light source to activate the drug.
One common use of the photodynamic therapy system is to treat the precancerous cells found in actinic keratosis. This is a skin condition caused by years of sun exposure that results in rough, dry, scaly patches of skin. It’s often found on the face, scalp or arms. When left untreated, actinic keratosis has about a 5 to 10 percent chance of turning into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Along with treatment for precancerous cells in actinic keratosis, photodynamic therapy can be used to treat other conditions as well. It can be used for Bowen’s disease and basal cell carcinoma, two other types of skin cancer, as well as some eye conditions. It can also be used in the treatment plan of very early stages of cancer in the esophagus, mouth or lungs.
The actual treatment is fairly simple and is a great option to avoid surgery later on. First, you’ll be given the light-sensitive medicine. This could be a topical cream, an injection, or a special drink, depending on the treatment area. You may be asked to return in a few days, giving the medicine time to build up in the abnormal cells that will be targeted during treatment.
During the procedure, a lamp or laser will be shone onto the treatment area for 10 to 45 minutes, which may result in a temporary burning sensation. If the area being treated is inside the body, rather than on the skin or eyes, an endoscope may be used to target the correct area.
Most patients will recover quickly, with dressing typically being removed after one day. Your skin might be temporarily red or swollen. A full recovery takes about two to six weeks. Your doctor will reassess whether the procedure should be repeated to get the desired effect.