Photodynamic Therapy, often referred to simply as PDT, is a medical treatment that uses photosensitizing agents and light exposure to treat a range of conditions, including skin cancers, acne, and actinic keratosis (“pre-cancers”). You can learn more about photodynamic therapy on this page, and the U.S. Dermatology Partners team would love to hear from you if you’re interested in scheduling a consultation to discuss photodynamic therapy. Simply use our online request form to schedule a consultation visit at the U.S. Dermatology Partners office closest to you.
You may have heard photodynamic therapy referred to as photoirradiation therapy, phototherapy, or photochemotherapy. PDT is a treatment that uses a combination of photosensitizing agents and light exposure. PDT is well known for its applications in skin cancer treatment, but PDT can also be used as a treatment for skin conditions like acne, actinic keratosis, and inflammatory rosacea. The photosensitizing agent may be administered intravenously or topically, and once it’s absorbed by the affected skin cells, light is used to destroy the damaged cells.
Individuals who have relatively good overall health who are struggling with diseased or inflamed skin cells may be candidates for photodynamic therapy. PDT is effective in treating many types of skin cancers and a range of other skin conditions. However, it should not be used by women who are pregnant or by anyone who has taken the drug isotretinoin (formerly known as Accutane) for acne during the past six months. Otherwise, when properly administered, PDT is a safe and effective treatment for precancerous, cancerous, and otherwise damaged skin cells. In addition to safely treating these skin conditions, PDT also avoids damaging the normal skin in the treatment area, providing better cosmetic outcomes compared with other treatment options, including surgical procedures that may lead to scarring.
Before receiving PDT treatment, we advise a visit to one of our U.S. Dermatology Partners locations for a consultation. During this consultation appointment, your dermatologist will evaluate your skin condition, walk you through the PDT process, answer any questions you may have, and work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan, using PDT on its own or in combination with other therapies.
The photodynamic therapy process consists of three steps:
Step one begins with the application of a light-sensitizing topical medication. In some cases, your provider will need to inject the photosensitizing agent.
After the photosensitizing agent is administered, you will enter the second step of the process, called incubation. This step can take several hours, a day, or longer, depending on the area being treated. During incubation, the previously administered photosensitizing medication is absorbed into the skin cells.
Once the photosensitizing agent is absorbed, you will enter into the third step of the PDT process. During the final step of PDT, the damaged tissue will be exposed to a specific wavelength of light designed to further activate the photosensitizing agent, leading to the destruction of the damaged skin cells. The type of light used will depend on the area of damaged skin and the details of the individual’s skin condition.
The PDT procedure is performed in one of our outpatient dermatology offices. We will create a treatment plan to ensures the best results are achieved safely and efficiently through expert care with our skilled dermatologists. If your PDT treatment is combined with other types of treatment, this plan may need to be adjusted. The physicians at U.S. Dermatology Partners can provide you with more information about the specifics of your PDT plan based on your individual needs.
Following your PDT session, you will come back to visit your dermatologist for a follow-up examination to ensure you are healing well and that your treatment achieved the desired results. At this point, we can discuss whether or not you may need to visit our office for additional follow-up treatments. If you have achieved the desired result after your first PDT session, we will likely still recommend you visit us on an annual basis. During this annual checkup visit, we can provide you with recommendations for ongoing maintenance PDT sessions, if indicated. We will also carefully examine your skin for signs of further concern that may be indicative of a need for additional treatments.
Immediately following your PDT treatment session, you will likely experience some redness or skin peeling that looks and feels a bit like the aftermath of a sunburn. This can last for a few days or weeks. The amount of time it takes for the skin to heal after PDT varies based on the size of the treatment area and your body’s own healing abilities. To ensure the best results and minimal discomfort related to PDT therapy, you need to carefully follow your dermatologist’s directions about skin care and sun exposure after your PDT sessions. Your skin will be much more sensitive during and after PDT sessions, so it is important to limit sun exposure and use sunscreen every day.
In addition to the redness and peeling skin after PDT sessions, you may notice the following side effects:
The good news is that even the most serious side effects of PDT treatment, which are rare, resolve within a few weeks. In most cases, there is no scarring or long term adverse impact on the skin or overall health. Because this treatment option is so safe and comfortable, it is quickly becoming a go-to solution for dermatologists and other physicians who treat skin conditions that previously required significantly more invasive or lengthy procedures to achieve similar results.
Annual maintenance treatments are often required to maintain the results of PDT, but individual maintenance requirements will vary based on the patient’s specific condition. During a follow-up appointment, we will discuss your results and create a treatment plan.
*Results may vary by individual