Lung Cancer Treatment — Photodynamic Therapy Offers a Safe Alternative
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is one of the newer lung cancer treatment options available today. Lung cancers are sometimes inoperable, particularly when they are situated in the bronchi or trachea. Similarly, cancers that have spread from other parts of the body to the bronchi cannot be removed surgically. In such cases, photodynamic therapy offers a safe and effective treatment option.
In a best-case scenario, PDT is used as a curative therapy that can eliminate the cancer completely. In many patients, PDT is employed as a palliative lung cancer treatment meant to provide relief from symptoms even though it does not cure the cancer.
Photodynamic therapy can effectively relieve symptoms like breathing difficulties from obstructions in the bronchi or trachea. In some patients, tumors block the airways and can cause coughing, breathing difficulties, pneumonia and bleeding. PDT may be used in such cases depending on the location, size and stage of the tumor.
PDT destroys cancer cells using a laser. To ensure that only cancerous cells are destroyed, a special drug is used to make the cancer cells more sensitive to this treatment while leaving normal cells intact.
There are three steps involved in the process of lung cancer treatment using PDT. In stage one, a drug called photofrin is injected intravenously. This drug has the property of making body cells very sensitive to light. Normal, healthy cells eliminate photofrin, but cancerous cells are unable to do so and the drug is retained in such cells.
In the second stage of PDT, about forty to fifty hours after the injection is given, a flexible tube is inserted into the bronchia. This tube contains a red laser of low intensity. The cancer cells exposed to this laser are destroyed.
In the third and final stage, about two days after the laser light exposure, a bronchoscopy is done to get rid of the dead cancer cells and mucus from the bronchi or trachea.
A patient can benefit from photodynamic therapy only if his or her cancer is situated in a location that is accessible to a bronchoscope. Also, the tumor must be large enough so that the bronchoscope can easily detect it. This means that some cancers like those located outside the bronchial passages cannot be treated with PDT.
Lung cancer treatment with PDT offers almost no dangerous side effects, unlike other treatment methods. Photosensitivity is about the only side effect that lasts for a while. Since photofrin makes cells sensitive to light, the patient may experience heightened light sensitivity for a period of four to eight weeks after the treatment.
During this time, even normal exposure to sunlight can result in severe sunburn. For this reason, patients who have undergone PDT are advised not to venture out into the sun for about eight weeks after their lung cancer treatment. In contrast to photodynamic therapy, major surgery done to eliminate lung cancer usually poses much greater risks.
Many tumors that are inoperable because of their location are prime candidates for treatment with PDT. When used as a palliative, this type of lung cancer treatment offers almost immediate relief.
Given all these advantages, increasing numbers of patients have been using photodynamic therapy as a lung cancer treatment of choice.
Linda Day is a researcher who has written about lung cancer symptoms, lung cancer prognosis and other related topics. For more information about this disease, check out the previous links.