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Cancers Treated by Photodynamic Therapy

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the photosensitizing agent called porfimer sodium, or Photofrin®, for use in photodynamic therapy to treat or relieve the esophageal cancer symptoms and non-small cell lung cancer symptoms.
Porfimer sodium is approved to relieve symptoms of esophageal cancer when the disease obstructs the esophagus or when the cancer cannot be satisfactorily treated with laser therapy alone. Porfimer sodium is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer in people for whom the usual treatments are not appropriate, and to relieve symptoms in people with non-small cell lung cancer that obstructs the airways.
In 2003, the FDA approved porfimer sodium for the treatment of precancerous lesions in people with Barrett's esophagus (a condition that can lead to esophageal cancer).

Limitations of Photodynamic Therapy

The light needed to activate most photosensitizers cannot pass through more than about one-third of an inch of tissue (1 centimeter). For this reason, photodynamic therapy is usually used to treat tumors on or just under the skin or on the lining of internal organs or cavities.
Photodynamic therapy is also less effective in treating large tumors because the light cannot pass far into these tumors. In addition, this is a local treatment; usually, it cannot be used to treat cancer that has spread (metastasized).

Are There Side Effects?

Porfimer sodium makes the skin and eyes sensitive to light for approximately six weeks after treatment. Thus, people are advised to avoid direct sunlight and bright indoor light for at least six weeks.
Photosensitizers tend to build up in tumors, and the activating light is focused on the tumor. As a result, damage to healthy tissue is minimal. However, photodynamic therapy can cause burns, swelling, pain, and scarring in nearby healthy tissue.
Other side effects of photodynamic therapy are related to the area that is treated. They can include:
  • Coughing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Stomach pain
  • Painful breathing
  • Shortness of breath.
These side effects are usually temporary.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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