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Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

Sep 8, 2023

Help for Sun-damaged Skin

Have you heard of Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)? It’s worth knowing about, especially if you have sun-damaged skin. Photodynamic Therapy is a non-surgical procedure that uses light to kill abnormal cells, effectively treating sun damage. By combining light energy with a drug called a photosensitizer, PDT destroys cancerous and precancerous cells. In fact, PDT can be used to treat bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, as well as acne, psoriasis, and several different types of cancer.

How does Photodynamic Therapy work?

The photosensitizing agents used in PDT only work when they have been activated by certain types of light. Sometimes, PDT is referred to as photoradiation therapy, photochemotherapy, or phototherapy. The photosensitizing agent is either applied to the skin or put into the bloodstream through a vein, depending on which part of the body is being treated. Light is then applied to the area, causing the drug to be activated and form a special kind of oxygen molecule that kills harmful cells. Another way that PDT works against cancer is by destroying the blood vessels feeding the harmful cells.

The time between the drug’s administration and the light application is known as the drug-to-light interval, and it can last a couple of hours or a couple of days, depending on which drug is used. This break allows the photosensitizer to be absorbed by cancer cells. The light used in Photodynamic Therapy is from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or from certain types of lasers, depending on what is being treated and where it is located.

What are the benefits, drawbacks, and side effects of PDT?

PDT has many benefits because it can work as well as surgery but is much less invasive. It can be targeted very precisely, and can be repeated at the same site many times if necessary. There is typically little to no scarring once the area heals, and no long-term side effects. When used to treat multiple spots, as with actinic keratosis, it is more effective than other treatments. For example, treating 20 spots with excision or liquid nitrogen is painful and can leave scars, but with PDT all of the spots can be treated at once. It doesn’t just treat spots you see, either, but can also work beneath the skin’s surface.

There are also some drawbacks, however. For example, PDT only treats areas where light can reach, so it can’t be used for large cancers or cancers deep in the skin or in other organs. It also can’t be used to treat cancers that have spread throughout the body, and it can’t be used in people with certain blood diseases. What’s more, precautions must be taken after the drugs are administered because the drugs leave people very sensitive to light. Though the procedure is generally safe, patients are likely to experience redness and peeling afterwards, and some will temporarily have blisters or scabs. Additionally, protective goggles are work during the treatment because the blue light can irritate the eyes.

What to Expect During PDT

Photodynamic Therapy is typically an outpatient procedure. Sometimes, it’s combined with surgery, chemotherapy or other cancer-fighting medications, or radiation therapy. The sessions are fairly simple. Once the photosensitizer drug has had time to take effect, the patient receives local or general medicine for pain management and relaxation. Treatment takes place on an exam table, with the appropriate kind of light activated over the area being treated in a strong, direct beam. Treatment can take just a few minutes or up to two hours, depending on the patient’s situation.

If you are interested in learning more about Photodynamic Therapy or need expert advice and help caring for your skin, contact Arlington Dermatology. For over 40 years, our Board-Certified dermatologists have been serving patients, making the health and welfare of our patients our top priority. We offer innovative methods of treatment, using state of the art medical equipment, in our conveniently located, patient-friendly facility in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Schedule an appointment through our website or call 847-392-5440.