Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

What is photodynamic therapy?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) was initially developed to treat cancer cells. PDT combines a drug (called a photosensitizer) which is preferentially absorbed by certain kinds of cells and a special light source. When used together, the photosensitizer and the light destroy the targeted cells. PDT has more recently been used for the treatment of non-cancerous conditions such as acne and for facial rejuvenation (see below). When used for these conditions, the photosensitizer is applied to the face and then the skin is exposed to a light source. Rapidly growing cells, oil glands, and other structures in the skin absorb the photosensitizer and are destroyed by a reaction caused by the light.

What is Photodynamic Therapy used for?

Facial PDT was initially developed for the treatment of precancerous lesions, called actinic keratoses. More recently, however, it has been used for photorejuvenation, wrinkles, discoloration (age spots), visible veins, and acne.

How is PDT performed?

PDT is a new therapy and there are currently different methods in use. For example, physicians may use blue light, red light, or intense pulse light. The photosensitizer is applied to the skin, and is left on for a variable period of time. The skin is then exposed to the light source and the photosensitizer is then removed. Reported side effects include transient burning, stinging, swelling, and redness.

How long does PDT take?

The length of a photodynamic therapy session is quite variable, depending on what is being treated. You should talk with your physician about your specific needs.

What will my skin feel like after PDT?

For the most intense PDT therapy available, there may be transient side effects such as burning, stinging, redness, and swelling that can last up to one week. However, many of the protocols in use are reportedly pain free with no recovery time.

How many PDT sessions will I need?

The number of photodynamic therapy treatments that have been used in clinical trials has ranged from one to three (over a period of three months). However, you and your physician will need to talk about your specific needs in deciding how many treatments you will need.

How long do the results last?

There are no long term studies evaluating how long the results last.

What are the risks of PDT?

Because PDT is a relatively new therapy, the long term risks have not been evaluated. Short term risks include transient burning, redness, stinging, and swelling. As with any medication, there is always a risk of an allergic reaction. You need to discuss the side effects in detail with your physician.

How long after a PDT before I can return to normal activities?

Usually, you can return to normal activities immediately after treatment.

How much does PDT cost?

The cost is variable and depends on many different factors. You will have to discuss cost with your physician and individual insurance carrier.

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