Is photodynamic therapy an effective treatment for lung cancer?

Answer From Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Photodynamic therapy may play a limited role in lung cancer treatment in very specific situations. Photodynamic therapy is a treatment that combines light energy with a cancer-killing drug that's activated by the light.

Photodynamic therapy may be an option if lung cancer grows into the airway, causing difficulty breathing, bleeding or persistent coughing. It might also be used to treat early-stage non-small cell lung cancers that are located in areas easily reached with the tools used during the treatment.

Photodynamic therapy begins with the injection of a light-sensitive medication into a vein. One to three days later, the doctor shines light of a certain wavelength onto the cancer from inside the body — typically using a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope, which is passed through the mouth into the lungs. The light destroys the cells that have absorbed the light-sensitive medication.

Photodynamic therapy isn't effective for cancers that have spread beyond the lung or that can't be reached with the bronchoscope.

After photodynamic therapy, your whole body is sensitive to light. Generally you need to avoid any exposure to bright light, including the sun, for several weeks after treatment.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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June 29, 2021 See more Expert Answers