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Photodynamic therapy treats premalignant growths by using special drugs called photosensitizing agents, along with light, to kill pre-cancerous cells. The drugs only work after being activated by certain wavelengths of light. The process also is known as PDT, photoradiation therapy, phototherapy and photochemotherapy.
Why choose photodynamic therapy for premalignant growths
Photodynamic therapy can be used to treat premalignant conditions such as actinic keratoses. Other benefits of the procedure include:
- No long-term side effects.
- Minimally invasive.
- Can be administered in a doctor's office.
- Can be administered multiple times to the same treatment area.
- Little or no scarring.
- Improved skin appearance, tone, color and texture.
What you should know about photodynamic therapy for premalignant growths
The procedure requires three steps: application, incubation and light activation. First the drug is applied to the skin in the treatment area, usually in the form of a liquid or cream.
The drug is allowed to air dry and then incubated anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes up to 18 hours, depending on the condition and treatment site.
The skin is exposed to a special blue light source. The patient may feel a slight tingling or warmth. Sometimes a fan is used to cool the treatment area. Following treatment, the treated area is cleansed and a sunscreen applied.
The interaction between the photosensitizing agent and light treatment activates an oxygen molecule that can destroy nearby cells. Once the treatment area has healed, it is re-examined to see if any additional treatments are necessary.
As with any treatment, there are risks associated with photodynamic therapy for premalignant growths, though they are minimized in the hands of a qualified ASDS dermatologist. Risks include:
- Light reaction similar to a sunburn
- Allergic reaction
- Sun sensitivity
The average cost for photodynamic therapy of premalignant growths is between $200 to several hundred dollars. Since removal of premalignant growths usually is considered a medical procedure, treatment often is covered by most medical insurance companies.
How to prepare for the procedure
Before the procedure, an ASDS dermatologist will review the patient's medical history and conduct a physical exam. This is the time for the doctor and patient to discuss expectations, potential risks/benefits and outcomes of the procedure. Patients should tell their doctor if they have:
- Extreme sensitivity to light.
- Prescriptions that make them sensitive to light.
- Conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus or porphyria.
- A history of staph infections, skin infections or cold sores.
- On the day of treatment, patients should wear loose comfortable clothes and a wide-brimmed hat (if they are having a facial treatment).
What to expect after the treatment
Most patients are able to drive themselves home after the procedure. Smoking is discouraged immediately following treatment. Most patients experience mild dryness and a sunburn on the treatment area. Over-the-counter medication can be used to treat pain.
It's important to avoid exposure to direct sunlight, even momentarily, for 24 to 48 hours following treatment. Accidental exposure can result in more severe reactions.
Patients usually can resume normal activities within a day or two following treatment.
Find a doctor for your photodynamic therapy treatment
Visit Find a dermatologic surgeon and choose “Skin Cancer Treatments & Reconstruction” from the dropdown menu. In 2012, ASDS dermatologists performed nearly 2.7 million skin cancer treatments. Because ASDS dermatologists are trained in the best and latest techniques, they are the most qualified to evaluate and select the best treatment choice based on the individual patient’s condition.