Can ALA-PDT Light Therapy Really Help Treat Pre-Cancers of the Skin?

Written by Dr. Daniel Shurman

As Featured in the Reading Eagle: It sounds like the opposite should be true, right? We know exposure to harmful UV rays can cause skin damage

including cancer, so exactly how does Photodynamic Light Therapy (PDT) help treat precancerous lesions?

How Does the Treatment Work?

There are a number of different treatments that your dermatologist may recommend for precancerous lesions depending on your situation. ALA-PDT, or Aminolevulinic acid – Photodynamic Therapy, is often the recommended treatment course for widespread lesions located on the face and scalp. The medical treatment works by first applying a topical drug to the lesions that binds to the rapidly growing cells of the pre-cancer and makes the skin sensitive to light. After the solution absorbs into the skin, the dermatologist then uses a strong blue or red light to activate the chemical, starving the cells of oxygen and killing the lesion.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Patients should avoid sunlight for at least 48 hours as the skin will still be sensitive from the topical solution. Some redness, pain, peeling, and swelling may occur following the treatment.

How Do I Know if I Have Precancerous Lesions?

Photodynamic Light Therapy is one treatment option dermatologists may recommend to treat actinic keratosis, or pre-skin cancers. Actinic keratoses results from long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation. They often appear as small, dry, scaly or crusty patches of skin typically on sun-exposed areas on the face, lips, ears, scalp, shoulders, neck, and the back of the hands and forearms. They can sometimes look harmless, and can look like a new age spot, pimple, or patch of irritated skin. 58 million Americans have one or more of these lesions, which are evidence of sun damage, and having them raises your lifetime risk for skin cancer. If left untreated, actinic keratosis can turn into invasive squamous cell carcinoma, so early detection is key. Because Photodynamic Light Therapy allows the focus to be on destroying the lesions and not the healthy tissue, it is especially useful for widespread actinic keratoses on the face and scalp and is effective as a one time treatment.

Is Photodynamic Light Therapy a Good Treatment Option for Me?

If you suspect you have actinic keratosis you should see your dermatologist for a formal diagnosis. There are many treatment options for actinic keratosis, and not all patients will see the same results from Photodynamic Light Therapy, so it’s important to work together with your dermatologist to determine if it’s the best course of action for you. Annual skin checks with your dermatologist are the key to the early detection and treatment of skin cancers.