How does photodynamic therapy for lung cancer work?

Photodynamic therapy uses the energy from a laser source to kill tumor cells that are growing on the inside of the trachea or main bronchus. Its best application is for small, early superficial tumors of the airway, which can be obliterated with the laser, thereby avoiding respective surgery.

If the initial evaluation reveals a cancer amenable to photodynamic therapy, an intravenous injection of Photofrin is given. This photosensitizing agent is selectively retained in cancer cells. Within 40 to 50 hours after the injection, a bronchoscopy is performed, illuminating the cancer with red laser light through the bronchoscope. The light can penetrate one centimeter deep into the treated area.

The low-power red laser light used for this procedure is non-burning and does not damage surrounding normal tissue. The red light combined with the Photofrin‚ retained in the cancer cells, causes a locally toxic photochemical reaction. This photochemical reaction kills the exposed cancer cells. Two days after the light treatment, bronchoscopy is repeated to remove the dead cancerous tissue and associated mucus and debris in the air passages.

As the demographics of non small cell lung cancer change, PDT therapy is used very infrequently.

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