Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) uses special drugs (photosensitizers) and certain kind of light to kill cancer cells. The photosensitizer is either put into the bloodstream through a blood vessel (intravenously) or put on the skin.

Over the course of a few hours or a few days, the drug is absorbed by the cancer cells and then activated with the light, which can come from a laser or other sources.

PDT can be repeated without harming normal body tissues and can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. At MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, our physicians offer world class cancer care and have extensive experience with photodynamic therapy.

Understanding the treatment

PDT is delivered in two steps. First, the drug is put into the bloodstream through a blood vessel (intravenously) or put on the skin. Although the drug is absorbed by cells throughout the body, it stays in cancer cells longer than normal, healthy cells. After a specified amount of time, the tumor or diseased area is exposed to a special light. This light may be applied inside the body with a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) or on the outside with an LED source (light-emitting diodes). The light causes a reaction that destroys the targeted cells and damages the blood vessels in the tumor that supply its vital nutrients.

Indications for the treatment

Photodynamic therapy may be a treatment option for people with esophageal or lung cancer.