In the derm world, photodynamic therapy is well-known. But odds are, if you aren’t someone who lives and breathes dermatology—like we do at Luminary—you’re probably wondering what is photodynamic therapy?
What is photodynamic therapy? — It’s a mouthful, is what it is! Photodynamic therapy is also known as PDT for short. PDT is a two-step treatment used to treat mild or serious skin conditions through the use of a photosensitizing medication and a light source to activate it.
What is PDT used for? — PDT can be used for simple tasks such as shrinking pores, reducing acne, and treating rosacea. Alternatively, PDT destroys abnormal cells that cause sunspots, which are a precancerous condition. It can also be used to treat certain forms of skin cancer.
There’s also evidence that PDT (also known as blue light therapy) is able to damage the blood vessels within tumors and activate the patient’s immune system to attack malignant cells. Several photodynamic therapy treatments may be necessary and this variety of therapy may be used alone or alongside other treatments for cancer, such as surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Does PDT hurt? — Some patients do report having mild discomfort during and after a PDT treatment. During the session, a stinging sensation and warmth is normal. Our providers are very accommodating to each patient’s comfort. Ice water for the skin and fans are provided for patients to use during the procedure. Following the treatment, protect your skin from the sun by wearing a hat or long sleeves; the sunshine on your freshly treated skin will be less than pleasant. Applying Aquaphor or Vaseline to your treated skin in the days to follow the treatment, will offer some relief.
What’s the downtime for PDT? — After a PDT treatment, patients can return home, and most return to work within one to two days after the procedure. Technically patients can return to work as soon as they wish, however, redness and swelling may occur after the procedure. Cold compresses will help offer relief and ease inflammation, as will the application of any non-cream-based moisturizer.
Are there side effects of PDT? — Although PDT is considered a safe treatment option, there are side effects associated with any medical procedure. Common side effects of PDT include localized redness, hyperpigmentation, bruising, infection, and scarring. These side effects are usually mild and resolve on their own within a few weeks.
Do I need PDT? — Roughly 58 million Americans have precancerous sun spots, also known as actinic keratoses. They develop as a result of years of sun exposure. People with fair skin, blonde or red hair, a history of frequent sun exposure, a tendency to freckle or burn, or a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing these sunspots. They generally appear after the age of 40. PDT is commonly used to treat actinic keratoses.
If the shoe fits…. don’t jump to conclusions! Schedule an appointment with one of our outstanding providers and they will assess the situation and tell you if PDT is right for you! And in the meantime, check out the Skin Cancer Foundation’s tips on detecting actinic keratoses yourself.