Photodynamic therapy is a cancer treatment that uses medications to make cancer cells and other abnormal cells vulnerable to special lights, such as lasers.

Photodynamic therapy involves applying a drug that makes the cells light sensitive. For cancers on or near the surface of the skin, the drug may be applied topically. For other cancers, the drug may be injected into a vein.

After a day or two, your doctor exposes the cancer cells to a certain wavelength of light. For cancers inside the body, this may require passing the light down a thin, flexible tube and into your esophagus or your windpipe (trachea) to reach the area.

The light kills the cells that have absorbed the light-sensitive medication.

Photodynamic therapy may be useful in treating conditions such as:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Barrett's esophagus
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Certain skin diseases, including precancerous skin changes (actinic keratosis) and nonmelanoma skin cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Teamwork. At Mayo Clinic, doctors from a variety of specialties work together to create multidisciplinary teams to care for people considering photodynamic therapy. Your medical team works with you to create a treatment plan that meets your needs.
  • Experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have experience performing photodynamic therapy for a wide variety of diseases and conditions.
  • Expertise. In the 1960s, Mayo Clinic doctors conducted pioneering studies that generated interest in using photodynamic therapy as a cancer treatment. Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists continue to perfect the use of photodynamic therapy.
  • Comprehensive cancer center. Mayo Clinic Cancer Center meets strict standards for a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center, which recognizes scientific excellence and a multidisciplinary approach to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

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What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, a variety of specialists form a multidisciplinary team to care for people considering photodynamic therapy. The experts involved in your care will vary depending on your situation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Florida, a variety of specialists form a multidisciplinary team to care for people considering photodynamic therapy. The experts involved in your care will vary depending on your situation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, a variety of specialists form a multidisciplinary team to care for people considering photodynamic therapy. The experts involved in your care will vary depending on your situation.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are studying new ways of using photodynamic therapy to treat cancer and precancerous conditions, such as Barrett's esophagus with high-grade dysplasia.

Mayo Clinic doctors are credited with early research into this treatment that sparked greater interest in using photodynamic therapy to treat cancer.

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic authors on photodynamic therapy on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

May 15, 2014