Photodynamic Therapy

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What is Photodynamic Therapy for Skin Cancer?

Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is a two-stage treatment that uses a specific wavelength of light to kill abnormal cells in the skin.

This treatment is approved to treat precancers, or actinic keratoses, but in specific instances this treatment is also used to treat skin cancers. Some basal cell carcinomas and early squamous cell carcinomas can be good candidates for PDT.

In other contexts, PDT can also be used to treat psoriasis and other skin conditions.

How Does Photodynamic Therapy Work?

The process of PDT involves a medication that is applied to the skin topically. The medication is usually a gel or liquid form, and is not toxic until it is activated by light.

The active ingredient of the medication collects in the tumor cells over the next hours or days. Inside the abnormal cells, the active ingredient is converted to a chemical that sensitizes the cells to a specific wavelength of light.

After this process takes place, the tumor is placed under a special light source, which kills the cells.

What Can I Expect After Skin Cancer Photodynamic Therapy?

The side effects of PDT are minimal. During the procedure you may feel burning or stinging, which usually stops once the treatment is completed. With PDT, redness, blistering, scabbing, and swelling is expected following the procedure. Sometimes, there may be temporary change in the color of the skin in that area as well as hair loss.

Because of the medication that was applied, the skin is very sensitive to sunlight for some time and you will need to be careful to avoid severe burns while in the sun. Try to avoid scratching or irritating the treated area.

If we place a dressing on the wound, please keep the area as dry as possible. After you remove the dressing, you can wash and bathe normally. It can take up to 2-6 weeks for the treated area to heal, and we usually follow up to ensure that the treatment was effective. Sometimes the treatment needs to be repeated for maximum effectiveness.

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