Photodynamic therapy, also called blue light or red light treatment, is a two-step treatment for precancerous skin growths and superficial skin cancers, or those located on the surface of the skin. It involves a applying a topical medicine to the skin that’s activated by visible light to destroy cancer cells.
Photodynamic Therapy for Actinic Keratosis and Skin Cancer
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a safe, effective treatment that kills the abnormal cells in the skin that cause cancer to grow. It can be used to treat:
- Actinic keratosis (rough, scaly skin caused by previous sun exposure)
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (Bowen disease)
It also has off-label use for photorejuvenation and to treat acne, sebaceous hyperplasia and granuloma annulare.
RUSH dermatologists use PDT to remove existing skin growths, even the tiniest ones we can’t see. It can also reduce the risk for future growths that is common with precancerous and cancerous skin conditions.
What to Expect
While photodynamic therapy may vary depending on your condition, you can generally expect us to:
- Apply a light-sensitive topical medicine, also called a photosensitizing agent, to the skin.
- Wait one to two hours for the skin to absorb the medicine.
- Activate the medicine with a fluorescent light for about 15 minutes.
The light used in PDT activates the medicine to destroy cancer cells and limits damage to healthy cells.
PDT is an outpatient procedure, which means you go home the same day. Some patients will need one or two additional sessions given in monthly intervals.
Photodynamic Therapy Healing Time and Recovery
One of the main benefits of photodynamic therapy for precancerous and cancerous skin growths is recovery time. Healing is faster and easier compared to other therapies.
Treatments like chemotherapy creams and other topical medicines can take weeks or even months to work, and cause ongoing redness, swelling and discomfort. And for patients with several skin growths, freezing them with liquid nitrogen can be painful.
PDT healing is like recovering from a bad sunburn. There can be redness and peeling that lasts four to five days, and generally heals with no scarring.
It’s important to note that the light in PDT is not the same as the ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun. To date, it has not been shown to increase the risk for skin cancer.
After PDT, there is little downtime. With appropriate sun protection, you can resume normal activity the day of the procedure.
RUSH Excellence in Photodynamic Therapy
- Close care management and monitoring: At RUSH, we’re here for the long-term. We watch your condition closely and treat problems early for better outcomes. RUSH dermatologists have performed photodynamic therapy for many years. We have vast experience knowing when to use PDT and how to effectively combine it with other therapies.
- Convenient treatment locations: In addition to downtown Chicago, we offer photodynamic therapy in Oak Brook where parking is easy and free. You don’t have to go far from home for expert care.
- Recognized cancer care in one system: If your condition requires more advanced services, you can trust our team. U.S. News & World Report has ranked RUSH University Medical Center among the top 50 hospitals in the country for cancer care.