Photodynamic therapy (PDT) for skin cancer
This page is about photodynamic therapy (PDT) for non melanoma skin cancer. You can find the following information
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) for non melanoma skin cancer
Photodynamic therapy or PDT is a treatment that uses a drug and a special type of light. The drug is a chemical that makes the skin cells sensitive to light. The drug is taken up by the cells and the affected area is exposed to the light. Then the cancer cells are destroyed.
PDT is an alternative to surgery. It is best used in cases where you would need a lot of surgery. It can be used to treat thin basal cell skin cancers, Bowen's disease and actinic keratosis (solar keratosis). PDT is not suitable for deeper basal cell cancers or squamous cell skin cancers because the light cannot penetrate far enough into the skin.
How you have PDT
You have a cream that contains the light sensitising chemical put on to the skin cancer and the surrounding area. Sometimes, you may have the chemical as an injection. After the drug has been absorbed, you will have a special light focused on to the treatment area. The light will kill any cell that has absorbed the drug. You can have the treatment more than once.
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Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a drug and a special type of light. The light could be a laser or another type of light. The drug is a chemical that makes the skin cells sensitive to light. This type of drug is called a photosensitising agent. The chemical can be introduced by injecting a drug into the bloodstream or it can be applied to the skin as a cream. The drug is absorbed by the body’s cells and makes them sensitive to light. When the area to be treated is exposed to the light the cancer cells are destroyed.
PDT is best used in cases where you would need a lot of surgery. So it is mostly used for large skin cancers that are not too deep or where there are several cancers in an area. In trials, the appearance of the treated area after PDT is better than after surgery. PDT is not suitable for deep basal cell cancers or squamous cell skin cancers because the light cannot penetrate far enough into the skin.
In 2011, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidance on a particular type of PDT called Ambulight. Ambulight can give photodynamic therapy in places outside hospitals, for example in patients’ homes. It is thought that it may cause less pain than normal photodynamic therapy. But NICE said that although doctors can choose to use Ambulight PDT there is not much evidence about how well it works.
Before having PDT treatment, the crust and scale is removed from the skin cancer. Then you have a cream that contains the light sensitising chemical put on to the skin cancer and the surrounding area. After the doctor or nurse has applied the cream the affected area will be covered for 3 to 6 hours. This allows the drug to get into the skin cancer cells. The cream contains a drug called 5-aminolaevulinic acid (ALA). Sometimes, you may have the chemical as an injection.
The 5-ALA makes the skin very sensitive to light. After it has been absorbed, you have a special type of light focused on to the affected area. The light kills any cell that has absorbed the 5-ALA. While the light is on, you may feel a stinging or burning sensation in the treatment area. A fan, simple painkillers or local anaesthetic can help ease the discomfort. You can have more than one skin cancer treated at a time and can have PDT more than once.
You can have PDT in the hospital outpatient department. Your doctor or nurse will advise you to keep the treated area covered and dry for 36 hours. After that it is fine to bathe or shower if you treat the area gently. It will scab over and the scab falls off on its own about 3 weeks later. If you have a thick skin lesion, you may need another treatment about 4 weeks later.
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