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Photodynamic Therapy at Drexel Dermatology

Photodynamic therapy is a medical treatment that uses a drug which becomes activated by light exposure.

Drexel Dermatology offers blue light therapy, which is a type of photodynamic therapy approved to treat premalignant skin lesions and some superficial skin cancers.

Photodynamic therapy is a medical treatment that uses a drug that becomes activated by light exposure. The result is an activated oxygen molecule that can destroy nearby cells. Precancerous cells and certain types of cancer cells can be treated this way. The goal of photodynamic therapy is selective tissue destruction. Although the photosensitizer may be absorbed all over by many cells, cancerous cells take up more of the drug and retain the drug for a longer time than normal tissues.

About the Photodynamic Therapy Procedure

The procedure is performed in a Drexel Dermatology office. It has three steps. A light-sensitizing liquid called the photosensitizer is applied to the skin, followed by an incubation period which will be determined by your physician. Finally, the target tissue is exposed to a specific wavelength of light, which activates the photosensitizing medication.

Before and after photos of photodynamic therapy patient.

Photodynamic therapy using Levulan and a blue light is currently FDA approved for the treatment of skin precancers called actinic keratosis (rough scaly spots generally on sun-exposed skin). Photodynamic therapy is also known as "ALA/PDT treatment" or "BLU-Light." These treatments may help remove sun-damaged precancerous skin. Sun damage, fine lines, and blotchy pigmentation may also be improved because of the positive effect of PDT. PDT also has been shown to help decrease the appearance of pores and reduce oil glands, effectively treating some stubborn acne, rosacea, and improving the appearance of some small acne scars.

The application of the Levulan is not painful. Exposure to the BLU-light may be uncomfortable, but it is considered by most patients to be tolerable. During the first one to three minutes after light exposure, there is usually a tingling sensation. Minutes three to seven are typically the most uncomfortable, but this is usually helped by a cool air blower. The patient's discomfort subsides after minute eight and the remaining portion of the treatment is usually well tolerated. The total light exposure lasts about 16 minutes.

Depending on the extent and size of the area affected, a patient may need several treatments that are spaced about four weeks apart. For areas that are minimally affected, a single session can be all that is needed.

Side Effects of Photodynamic Therapy

Side effects of photodynamic therapy with Levulan include discomfort, burning, swelling, redness, skin peeling, lightening or darkening of skin tone, and possible hair removal. All of these are more likely in areas of sun damage or within precancerous lesions. The peeling may last many days and the redness may last for a few weeks. When treated with BLU-light alone, there are typically no side effects.

Photodynamic Therapy and Medical Insurance

Photodynamic therapy sessions for actinic keratoses (precancerous lesions) are covered by most insurances. However, some insurances do require a prior authorization. Other off-label uses or non-FDA approved indications for photodynamic therapy, including acne treatment, are considered cosmetic, and are NOT covered by medical insurance.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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