Levulan photodynamic therapy is a non-invasive treatment for skin cancer, actinic keratosis, acne, and various other skin conditions. Read on to understand its benefits and limitations.

What is photodynamic therapy (PDT)?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) eliminates harmful cells, including cancer cells, using a medication called photosensitizers. Levulan PDT is a form of photodynamic therapy that dermatologists in Buckeye and Scottsdale use to address precancerous actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Levulan PDT combines photosensitizers and a special light to destroy unhealthy cells.

What happens during a photodynamic therapy procedure?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved photodynamic therapy as a treatment for different malignancies. Depending on your target area, your healthcare provider will give you a photosensitizer, which you may take orally as a pill or through your vein intravenously. As a skin cancer treatment, your physician will apply a photosensitizing ointment or cream directly onto your skin. The drug targets harmful cells and makes them highly sensitive to light exposure.

After applying the photosensitizer, your doctor will use a special light to irradiate the treatment area. Based on the type of photosensitizer administered, your doctor will use low-level red light therapy or blue light therapy. Under illumination, the photosensitizing agent reacts with oxygen and stimulates a chemical response that destroys cancer cells.

Keep in mind that the interval between administering the drug and shining a low-level red or blue light (drug-to-light interval) ranges from a few hours to a couple of days.

Depending on the severity of your condition and other health-related factors, you may receive repeat Levulan therapy treatments. The dermatologists at Buckeye Dermatology can collaborate with your oncologists and conduct a complete review of your medical history to determine your candidacy for Levulan PDT treatments.

How long is a PDT session?

In most cases, a PDT treatment takes anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. Treatment time depends on the size of your targeted area.

When will the results of PDT appear?

As each patient is different, the results of PDT treatments vary depending on each unique case. Every cell surrounding your target site will absorb the photosensitizing agent, remaining longer in abnormal cells than in healthy cells. Recalling the drug-to-light interval, some photosensitizers begin collecting in unhealthy cells immediately, while others take hours or days to accumulate in large enough amounts for successful treatment. Your photodynamic therapy timeline, including the number of treatments you receive and how often you have them, depends heavily on the type of photosensitizer your doctor prescribes.

What are the benefits of Levulan photodynamic therapy?

PDT offers several benefits compared to other cancer treatments:

No known long-term side effects when performed properly
A quick outpatient procedure
Possibility of repeat treatments within shorter intervals
Non-invasive and more precise compared to surgical excisions
Minimal scarring

Does photodynamic therapy have side effects?

Like all medical procedures, PDT carries risks and side effects. For instance, photosensitizers affect both abnormal and normal cells, making you more sensitive to light even after completing your treatment. If your precancerous or malignant spots are on the face, your skin and eyes may be sensitive to light for up to three months following your procedure.

In addition, the possible side effects of photodynamic therapy for skin cancer include:

Swelling and redness
Itching, stinging, or burning
Scales, blisters, or crusts
Skin infections

Rest assured your treatment provider will prepare you for PDT and minimize the chances of side effects from occurring.

What are the limitations of PDT?
Levulan photodynamic therapy only treats areas of the body where light can reach. It is effective against most skin problems and certain skin malignancies, but it cannot treat distant cancers or cancers that have developed deep into your skin.

If your cancer has progressed too far for PDT to treat, consider the other 7 Types of Skin Cancer Treatments in Buckeye-Scottsdale, AZ.

How long is the photodynamic therapy recovery period?

Recovery from Levulan photodynamic therapy is usually quick. For small precancerous spots or lesions, you may feel recovered within a day and experience no side effects. For larger treatment areas, it may take between two and six weeks to fully heal from PDT.

The majority of patients resume their daily activities immediately following PDT. However, all patients should take steps to protect the skin and assist the healing process. For example, your doctor may recommend covering your treatment area to shield the skin against direct sunlight and infections.

Furthermore, depending on the photosensitizing agent your doctor uses, you may need to make temporary adjustments to your lifestyle. These changes may include:

Spending most of your time indoors
Avoiding direct sunlight and strong indoor lights
Wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses
Staying away from bright reading or examination lamps
Keeping your skin away from heat sources, such as hair dryers
Avoiding places where the sun reflects off the ground, including beaches with light sand and areas covered in snow

This list is not exhaustive. During your consultation, ask your treatment provider for a complete list of dos and don’ts after photodynamic therapy sessions.

Are the results of photodynamic therapy permanent?

When treating skin conditions, PDT results are mostly semi-permanent and last several months. As a treatment for skin cancer, research shows that PDT can be as effective and successful as radiation or chemotherapy in certain situations. The number of sessions you will need depends on several factors, including the specific form of cancer you have, your tumor’s location, and how well you respond to PDT.

A Note From Buckeye Dermatology AZ

If you have BCC, SCC, or another medical condition that may benefit from photodynamic therapy, ask your doctor if this treatment could be a good option for you. Photodynamic therapy treats a number of concerns, including many types of cancer and skin conditions. It minimizes damage to normal cells, has zero known long-term side effects, and it’s an outpatient procedure.

Find out if photodynamic therapy is right for you by booking an appointment with Buckeye dermatologists. Our team specializes in Levulan PDT for skin cancer and aesthetic uses. Call us at 602-754-6075 to get started.