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What to Expect From Photodynamic Therapy

Aug 26, 2008
Doctors have been using light to treat a host of ailments for generations, but in recent years, this type of treatment option has become better understood and more widely used. Now experts know that combining light with medications that will sensitize the skin to the light therapy can be a highly effective treatment for everything from acne to cancer. Most of these treatments entail very little discomfort or downtime, making them an attractive option over traditional surgical procedures. The convenience and comfort coupled with the effectiveness have brought light therapies into the forefront of many doctor's offices today.

Photodynamic therapy is the term that describes treatments that combine light and sensitizing medications. These treatments are becoming more common in offices that practice oncology, dermatology and cosmetic surgery, since they have proven to be particularly effective in these areas of medicine. The therapy is generally used on areas that are close to the surface of the skin, since the light penetration is limited at this point. However, there are ways to target the linings of internal organs as well, with the use of intravenous medications and endoscopes or other methods that help the light get inside the body.

Three-Step Process

Photodynamic therapy basically involves a three-step process. The first step is to administer the medication, which can be done topically or through an intravenous injection. The medications vary based on the type of treatment that will be used and how the medication needs to be applied. Once the medication is given, an incubation period must take place to allow the medication to be absorbed into the cells that will be given the treatment. This time period can range from a few minutes to a few days, depending on where the medication is applied and the type of condition that will be treated. Shorter incubation periods will be waited out at the doctor's office, so it is a good idea to bring along a water bottle and reading material on the day of treatment.

After the incubation period is over, the light therapy will begin. There are different lights that can be used for photodynamic therapy, including lasers, LED's, blue light or red light. The type of light that is used will be determined by the type of treatment that is being done. If the treatment will be used on or near the skin's surface, the patient will probable sit or lie directly next to the light. If the treatment will take place internally, light can be sent to the area through fiber optic cables or very narrow tubes known as endoscopes.

After the treatment, the skin is will be exceedingly sensitive to light, so the patient will probably be instructed to protect the skin and eyes from sunlight and bright indoor light with long sleeves and sunglasses. The sensitivity is temporary, and the length of time will vary based on the type of treatment that was done. Recovery from the procedure is relatively quick and easy, with most patients returning to normal activities within a day or two. A low risk, effective procedure and a relatively short recovery time make photodynamic therapy an attractive choice for many people.
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