Photodynamic Therapy: Treatments and Recovery

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a valuable addition to dermatology science. It is used to treat superficial skin cancers and other ailments, as well as being a tool for facial rejuvenation procedures. By combining the photosensitising agents of oxygen and light, a reaction can be created that selectively kills unhealthy skin cells, restricting the need for invasive surgery.

The technology underlying PTD has continued to evolve during recent decades, and there are more treatment options than ever before. The two-pronged approach of PDT incorporates topical, oral or intravenous drugs that are targeted by light rays designed to kill unwanted cells. Laser and non-laser light can be used depending on the area treated by photosensitising agents.

Photodynamic therapy treatments

Dermatologists possess all the tools in the fight against cancer. Most skin cancers are benign and unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, although for people who want to look their best, removal of skin cancer is definitely an option. Photodynamic therapy is a very effective treatment for some of the most common cancers and skin conditions including:

  • Actinic Keratoses affecting the scalp and face
  • Superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma In-Situ (Bowen disease)

Light therapy can be used on any part of the body, and is particularly helpful in situations where surgical removal of lesions isn’t a suitable option.

The wavelength corresponds with absorption rates of photosensitising agents.

  • Light waves can be accurately focused for maximum absorption.
  • The higher light intensity facilitates shorter treatments (you may require several treatments).

There are just a few stages involved in PDT treatment and recovery. The procedure can be comfortably undertaken in a purpose-built facility such as Pymble Dermatology as an outpatient, with a return home on the same day. Medicated pain relief can be administered or prescribed during and after the procedure for additional comfort.

Stage 1: A photosensitising agent is applied to the lesion. To increase absorption of light, some lesion skin may be scraped off (curettage) or needled prior to application of the photosensitising agent. A comfortable clinic area is provided while the agent is absorbed as it can take a few hours to fully concentrate around cancer cells.

Stage 2: Light (laser or non-laser) is aimed at the lesion. The duration will depend on individual circumstances, but the session can last from between 7-8 minutes. The treatment area needs to be protected from light exposure during recovery for at least 48 hours. In some cases, additional treatments are administered during the following weeks or months.

Stage 3: The area of treated skin will suffer similar symptoms to sunburn, with redness, stinging, peeling and blistering all possible.

Photodynamic therapy recovery

Your dermatologist will provide full recuperation instructions. Pain medication can be prescribed according to patient needs and in some cases, a few days off work will be advised for optimum recovery. During this time, and for the next few weeks, the skin cancer cells will die off and healing will be ongoing. Scarring is usually quite minimal compared to invasive surgical procedures, and the treated area should return to regular skin tone over time, although loss of pigmentation is possible.

Photodynamic therapy creates an environment where treated skin cells become sensitive to light. This includes healthy cells along with cancer cells. Recovery includes regular application of sunblock for a time to help healthy skin cells regain their full capacity to absorb and repel light. Photodynamic therapy applications have been endorsed by dermatology medical professionals around the world, and as it is a non-invasive therapy, patients are benefiting in ways unheard of just a few years back.