Photodynamic Therapy (or PDT) is an FDA approved office based treatment for the removal of precancerous cells on the skin called Actinic Keratoses or AKs. Often referred to as “sun spots”, AKs are rough-textured, scaly spots that occur usually because of excessive long term exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light. It is very important to treat AKs because they can progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. AKs can be destroyed using a variety of methods including physical destruction of the lesions, anticancer creams, or a special gel or solution followed by a light source called PDT.
What is Photodynamic Therapy(PDT)?
This is one of the most effective and fastest methods to destroy precancer cells(called Actinic Keratoses or AKs) on the skin. A solution or gel is applied to and left on the area that is being treated, such as the face, scalp or arms. After about 60-90 minutes the area is then exposed to a light called Omnilux Red Light for about 6 minutes. The topical medication detects the AKs, some of which are not even visible. Then the light source “activates” the gel which in turn, selectively destroy the AKs, leaving normal skin unharmed. The result is often a significant reduction in the precancerous cells and therefore a reduced risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. Also, as a side benefit, many people notice the appearance of the skin is greatly improved.
Why should you consider PDT?
It is recommended that AKs be treated because they can progress to a form of cancer. Many methods exist to destroy AKs. Some AKs require individual removal of each lesion by freezing or scraping methods. However, lesions have to be visible in order to be removed individually. Anticancer creams on the other hand destroy many precancers at the same time, visible or not. However, they will need to be applied by patients often for weeks and can result in a lot of irritation and redness for a long period of time. Treatment with these creams or gel can take several weeks.
PDT on the other hand is an office based procedure which takes about 90 minutes, often with very little downtime.
What should you expect after PDT treatment?
It is very important to protect the treated skin from the sun or any intense light source for at least 48 hours post treatment. The chemicals used in PDT can continue to react to light for a length of time after therapy even when it is washed off of the skin. It is therefore important to protect the treated area of the skin for a few days after each session. Most patients will experience mild to moderate redness, scaling, and swelling following the treatment. This will typically resolve in a few days.
Rarely, a more intense reaction could occur which will also eventually resolve within a week or so. Your doctor may give you a topical or oral medication for your comfort and to aid in the resolution of the inflammation produced by the treatment.
How many treatment sessions will you need?
Your doctor will determine which area(s) of the body will benefit from this treatment. On a given visit, one area will be treated such as the full face, scalp, arms, chest or lower legs. For maximum effectiveness, at least two treatment sessions are recommended and done four to six weeks apart.
Is this procedure covered by insurance?
Almost all major insurances cover this procedure if you have actinic keratoses (AKs). A prior authorization from your insurance company might be required and will be obtained if needed by our staff.