A trial looking at photodynamic therapy (PDT) for brain tumours

Cancer type:

Brain (and spinal cord) tumours




Phase 3

This trial was looking at whether photodynamic therapy alongside surgery is helpful for people who have just been diagnosed with a type of brain tumour called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

The first treatment for GBM is usually surgery, followed by radiotherapy. In this trial, researchers looked at adding photodynamic therapy to this standard treatment Open a glossary item.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that uses light. Trials had already taken place using PDT for brain tumours that had come back after treatment. This trial was looking PDT alongside surgery and radiotherapy as a first treatment.

People having photodynamic therapy in this trial had 2 drugs before they had surgery. The first of these drugs was called 5-ALA. It makes brain tumour cells glow red under ultra violet light. During surgery, the surgeon used an ultra violet light on a microscope to look for tumour cells that glow red and removed as many of these as possible.

The other drug was Photofrin. This drug is absorbed by cancer cells and is activated by light. A bright light was shone into the area where the brain tumour had been removed soon after surgery, and then once on each of the next 4 days. This activated the drug and helped to kill any cells that had been left behind.

Summary of results

The researchers found that it took longer for the brain tumours to start growing again in people who had photodynamic therapy.

The trial recruited 27 people who had just been diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour.

They were put into 1 of 2 groups at random. Neither the person taking part, nor their doctor could decide which group they were in. This is called randomisation.

  • 13 people had surgery and photodynamic therapy (PDT), followed by radiotherapy
  • 14 people had surgery alone followed by radiotherapy (the control group Open a glossary item)

The researchers found that the average length of time people lived after treatment was longer in the PDT group.

They also looked at the time it took for the brain tumours to start growing again and found that it was

  • Over 8 and a half months in the group of people who had PDT
  • Less than 5 months in the control group

There was no difference between the groups in the length of time people stayed in hospital, or the complications they had after treatment. But by using a scale called the Karnofsky performance status, the researchers could see that for people in the PDT group, there was more of an improvement in how well they were and how many normal activities they were able to carry out 6 months after treatment.

This trial recruited a small number of people at 1 hospital. But as it took longer for the brain tumours to start growing again in people who had PDT, the researchers suggest this treatment should be looked at in a larger trial.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Prof Sam Eljamel

Supported by

Ninewells Hospital and Medical School
The Barbara Stewart Cancer Trust

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Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 410

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Rhys was only four years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour

A picture of Rhys

"He went through six operations and was placed on a clinical trial so he could try new treatments.”

Last reviewed:

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