What is Photodynamic Therapy?
When a patient presents with early signs of skin cancer, we take that very seriously. One of Epiphany Dermatology’s primary missions is the eradication of skin cancer. Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is an effective treatment for a skin condition known as actinic keratosis (AK), or solar keratosis.
Primarily caused by harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from overexposure to the sun, actinic keratosis¹ presents as crusty skin growths on the skin surface and commonly found on the face and scalp. Although the skin growths are painless, this can be a warning sign of the most common type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
Photodynamic therapy treats actinic keratosis with a combination of blue light treatment and Levulan Kerastick². Levulan is a liquid medication applied to the affected area of the patient’s skin before receiving specially-designed light therapy.
How Does Photodynamic Therapy Work?
When actinic keratosis is present on either the face or scalp of the patient during their skin assessment, photodynamic therapy may be recommended. An appointment will be set up in Epiphany Dermatology’s Riverside, Missouri office location where photodynamic treatments are commonly performed. Before initiating this innovative combination therapy, our dermatologist will complete a full assessment of your health history, potential allergies, and current medications to determine the benefits and risks of treatment.
In the comfort of our treatment center, our trained staff apply the topical medication, Levulan (aminolevulinic acid HCl) to the afflicted areas of the face and scalp. Levulan is considered a photosensitizing drug. Once applied, the chemicals in this medication will react to light exposure. Therefore, patients will remain in our office to give the medication time to absorb in the affected area. The appointment for a client’s photodynamic treatment will require two to four hours. We advise our patients to plan their day accordingly. Once the medicine has been absorbed into the targeted area of pre-cancerous skin, the patient is positioned carefully under a blue light for 16 minutes and 40 seconds to activate the medicine’s effects on the surface. Some patients have reported a stinging sensation during treatment.
This spectrum of blue light activates the photosensitizing agent of the Levulan’s topical medication. The chemical reaction produces a form of oxygen that can destroy nearby pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. The powerful combination of medication and light therapy can improve the cosmetic appearance of the actinic keratosis as well, by decreasing the size and thickness of the rough skin patches.
After the treatment of photodynamic therapy, patients are advised to remain indoors and avoid exposure to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet rays for a couple of days.
Possible side effects of photodynamic therapy that patients should be aware of include pain, redness or swelling at the treatment sites.
What are the Advantages of Getting Photodynamic Therapy?
Although the photodynamic light therapy treatment area is limited to where its therapeutic light can reach, it has many advantages to the other more costly and invasive treatment options. These include:
• There are no long-term side effects
• Treatments can be done outpatient with little to no downtime.
• Surgical options are more invasive and costlier
• Precise areas are more accessible to target for more effective treatments
• When the site heals, there is little to no scarring.
• If an area requires additional treatment, it can be treated again without harm.
1 Mark Lebwohl, M. D. (n.d.). Actinic Keratosis (AK). Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org:
2 DUSA Pharmaceuticals, Inc.®. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dusapharma.com: