What is the role of photodynamic therapy (PDT) in the management of basal cell carcinoma (BCC)?

Updated: Mar 23, 2021
  • Author: Robert S Bader, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Photodynamic therapy (PDT) for basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) has been used for more than 20 years. [91, 92] PDT is the process of using specific wavelengths of light to photoexcite porphyrins that have been applied to neoplastic and preneoplastic cells. This increased energy is rapidly absorbed by adjacent tissue oxygen, causing the formation of singlet oxygen radicals. These radicals rapidly react with adjacent tissue and destroy it. 5-Aminolevulinic acid (ALA-PDT) is the only US Food and Drug Administration approved photoreactive molecule for PDT in the United States, and it is only approved for actinic keratoses. It is photoactivated with blue light for 1000 seconds after 1 hour of incubation.

PDT is administered orally or parenterally, as well as applied topically, and localizes into tumor cells before activation by exposure to light (eg, laser). The efficacy is low, and this treatment is frequently palliative. PDT may cause local edema, erythema, blistering, and ulceration, but the final cosmetic effect is good.

PDT yielded only a 50% cure rate for superficial BCC, versus an 83% cure rate for nodular BCC, in a study by Calzavara-Pinton et al. [93] At present, PDT has no distinct advantage over other well-established therapies for BCC of the eyelid. In a study by Puccioni et al, PDT using methyl aminolevulinate showed notable success and appears to be a viable option in the treatment of BCC of the eyelid in selected patients. [94]

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