Photodynamic Therapy

Hillcrest Photodynamic Therapy DermatologistsA range of treatment options exists for pre-cancerous skin cells, both surgical and non-invasive. While your physician in Arizona will compassionately help you arrive at the treatment that’s best suited to your own personal skin cancer situation, there is a promising treatment to consider: photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) combines drug therapy with light therapy to treat certain skin cancers.

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer or are concerned that you may have skin cancer, get in touch with the dermatologists at West Dermatology. Schedule an appointment with us by filling out an online contact form. PDT and more skin cancer treatment options can help you find effective care for skin cancer today. We have locations in Arizona, Nevada, and California.

How Photodynamic Therapy Works

PDT uses a special type of drug, called a photosensitizing agent, that attacks cancer cells after it has been activated by a photosensitizer—a type of light with a very specific wavelength. The most common type of drug used for PDT for skin cancer treatment is minolevulinic acid (Levulan).

This class of drugs is applied topically at the site and absorbed by the cancer cells. This step can take anywhere from a couple of hours to couple of days, depending on the type of drugs being used. The photosensitizer light (a blue light, in the case of ALA/Levulan) is then applied, which triggers the drug to produce an active form of oxygen that kills nearby cancer cells.

Benefits of Photodynamic Therapy

PDT often costs less than surgery or radiation therapy, and studies find that it is just as effective in treating certain types of pre-cancers.

Benefits of PDT compared to surgery:

  • Less invasive.
  • Can be performance on an outpatient basis.
  • Produces little to no scarring when the site heals.

Benefits of PDT compared to radiation:

  • No long-term side effects.
  • Can be precisely targeted.
  • Can be repeated many times at the same site if needed.

Limitations of Photodynamic Therapy

Though it has a number of promising benefits, PDT won’t work for every situation. Here are a few of the limitations of PDT:

  • PDT can only treat areas where light can reach, which means that cancer must be on or right under the skin, or in the lining of organs that can be reached with a light source—rather than in large organs. It generally cannot pass through more than about one-third of an inch, or one centimeter, of tissue.
  • PDT can only be used for localized cancers: those that have not spread far from where they started
  • PDT can’t be used in patients with certain blood diseases, including porphyrias (a rare group of diseases that affect the skin or nervous system), or in people who are allergic to porphyrins.

Potential Side Effects of PDT

The side effects of PDT are minimal, but you should always be aware of the possibilities.

  • The drugs required for PDT generally make a patient extremely sensitive to light, necessitating precautions for approximately six weeks. Patients in Arizona should avoid direct sunlight and bright indoor light for the duration.
  • Treatment may cause burning, red patches, scaliness, or swelling at the site. Typically these side effects will dissipate in about four weeks.

Learn more about photodynamic therapy for skin cancer, visit

Is PDT Right for You?

With decades of experience treating all forms of skin cancer, the expert team at West Dermatology in Arizona, Nevada, and California can help you determine which therapy is right for you. The earlier skin cancer is detected and treated, the better the outcome, so contact our skin care specialists immediately if you discover cause for concern during a monthly self-check. With locations in southwest US’ largest cities, including Hillcrest, San Diego, Las Vegas, and others, West Dermatology has been serving more than 500,000 families in communities like yours everyday.

Next, read about Superficial Radiation Therapy.