When caught early, skin cancer is one of the most effectively treated cancers with treatment options that carry very high success rates. Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is a treatment that has helped many people control and cure pre-cancers and very early skin cancers.
PDT is a non-invasive therapy that uses a photo-sensitizing medicine called aminolevulanic acid or ALA (brand name Levulan) to treat precancers and early skin cancers. A photosensitizer is a substance that makes cells more sensitive or susceptible to damage from light. What makes ALA special is that this chemical is more photosensitizing for unhealthy cells than it is for good healthy cells. When Levulan is applied to the skin, unhealthy cells quickly absorb the medicine whereas healthy cells absorb minimal amounts. Once they have absorbed the medicine, the unhealthy cells will be damaged and eliminated when they are exposed to light that activates the medicine.
It turns out that blue light with a wavelength of 410-417nm best activates amino-levulanic acid’s photoactive metabolites. That is why blue light is used during PDT and why PDT is also called “blue light therapy.” Exposing the Levulan-treated patient to blue light activates the medicine and causes the unhealthy cells to fall away and be replaced by healthy undamaged cells. As a result, photodynamic therapy allows for a relatively pinpointed type of treatment.
In medical school, doctors always hear about the search for the “magic bullet” – a treatment that cures a disease without harming the person. PDT is thought of as one such treatment – preferentially targeting precancers and early cancers and restoring health to the skin.
The first step to PDT treatment is prepping the skin with a cleanser and then applying the ALA/Levulan directly onto the area to be treated. The ALA “incubates” or rests on the skin long enough for it to be absorbed well. After the ALA has incubated and been allowed time to absorb, blue light is applied for approximately fifteen minutes to activate the photo-sensitizing agent.
Photodynamic therapy is usually an outpatient procedure performed in the comfort of our office. It is not uncommon to see this therapy used in conjunction with other cancer therapies. Blue light therapy is an excellent option when a patient has numerous areas of sun damage warranting treatment at the same time. Thankfully, most insurers recognize the value of PDT – it is a proven treatment and carries FDA approval for treating grade 1 or 2 (thin or moderately thick) actinic keratoses.
Not all PDT treatments are created equal. FDA-scrutinized studies used a light source called “Blu-U” that is optimized to activate medicine during PDT and help treatments be successful. Not all dermatologists use the Blu-U device when performing PDT. At Premier Dermatology and Mohs Surgery of Atlanta, we use only genuine Levulan Kerasticks and the BLU-U device to help assure treatment success. To learn more about Blu-U, click here: http://www.dusapharma.com/blu-u.html.
If you are affected by skin cancer or are concerned about sun damaged skin and would like to learn more about your treatment options, make an appointment at Premier Dermatology and Mohs Surgery of Atlanta with Dr. Brent Taylor.