Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that involves light-sensitive medicine and a light source to destroy abnormal cells.

It can be used to treat some skin and eye conditions, as well as certain types of cancer.

On their own, the medicine and light source are harmless, but when the medicine is exposed to the light, it activates and causes a reaction that damages nearby cells.

This allows small abnormal areas of tissue to be treated without the need for surgery.

Uses for photodynamic therapy (PDT)

PDT can be used to treat abnormal cells in parts of the body that a light source can reach, such as the skin, eyes, mouth, food pipe (oesophagus) and lungs.

Conditions sometimes treated with PDT include:

PDT also shows promise in treating some other types of cancer, as well as warts, acne and extramammary Paget's disease (a pre-cancerous condition that affects skin in and around the groin).

What happens during photodynamic therapy (PDT)

PDT is done in 2 stages.

1) Preparation

2) Light treatment

After photodynamic therapy (PDT)

If your skin was treated, the area will be covered by a dressing that should remain in place for about a day. Your care team will tell you exactly how long.

Try to avoid scratching or knocking the treated area, and keep it as dry as possible.

Once you're advised to remove the dressing, you can wash and bathe as normal, as long as you gently pat the treated area dry.

A follow-up appointment at the hospital or clinic will be arranged to assess whether the treatment has been effective and decide if it needs to be repeated.

It usually takes around 2 to 6 weeks for the area to heal completely, depending on which part of the body has been treated and how big the area is.

Risks and side effects of photodynamic therapy (PDT)

PDT is a very safe and effective treatment when it's used for conditions it's been officially approved (licensed) to treat. But the following side effects are common:

Other potential side effects depend on the area treated.

Talk to your doctors about the possible risks of PDT before having the treatment.

NGPDT and sonodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an effective and licensed treatment for several conditions.

It should not be confused with the unproven, unlicensed versions sold by some private clinics in the UK and overseas.

Clinics promoting these so-called "advanced" versions of PDT, called "next-generation PDT" (NGPDT) and "sonodynamic therapy" (SDT) sometimes claim they can treat deep or widespread cancers.

But these claims are not supported by scientific evidence and these treatments are not recommended, even as a last resort.

Page last reviewed: 13 November 2019
Next review due: 13 November 2022