Disclaimer: Consult with a doctor before deciding on a treatment plan for cancer or any other disease.
Photodynamic Therapy is a type of light therapy that combines laser therapy with chemotherapy or radiation (known as photoradiation or photochemotherapy) or it combines laser therapy with a sensitizer such as curcumin or hypericin. A photosensitizing agent (a medication that’s activated by light) is typically injected into the blood. This agent tends to build up in cancer cells more than in normal cells which allows doctors to focus laser light directly on tumors. The cancer cells then absorb the light and a chemical reaction occurs which kills the cancer cells .
Photodynamic Therapy can only be used on cancer cells located just under the skin or on the lining of certain organs because this light therapy can only pass to a limited depth into the body. This type of therapy poses fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy or radiation therapies and Photodynamic Therapy can be used more than once at the same location on the body .
The FDA has only approved the use of Photodynamic Therapy for:
- Non-small cell lung cancer
- Actinic keratosis (a pre-cancerous skin problem)
Laser irridation makes use of tiny nanoparticles to destroy cancer from inside the cell. Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute and the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Copenhagen have injected the nanoparticles directly into tumors and then blasted with near infrared light to achieve significant results in mice. This cancer treatment option is gentler on the body because it allows doctors to locally target and kill cancer cells. This laser treatment strategy is less damaging than the conventional cancer treatment which includes surgical removal of tumors followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation .
Another type of laser and nanoparticle therapy uses Near Infrared laser irradiation to reduce tumor growth in lung cancer patients. This type of therapy uses a laser to deliver nanoparticles that contain chemotherapy drugs into a tumor. The tumor is then heated and the chemotherapy drugs are released inside the tumor. Though this treatment strategy still involves the use of chemotherapy, the chemotherapy is more precisely targeted and therefore less toxic to the rest of the tissues in the body .
The use of lasers in cancer treatment can be used in a variety of situations though often, lasers are used for treatment in the early stages of cancer. In conventional medicine lasers are used as an alternative to surgical resection. They are often employed to reach locations that are difficult to access in another way, to apply heat, or to make precise cuts in a very small or delicate location. Laser surgery may also be used for palliative care to make patients more comfortable even though it can’t treat the cancer. In this case, they can be used to relieve cancer symptoms such as bleeding or obstruction, to seal nerve endings and reduce pain following surgery, or to seal lymph vessels and thereby reduce swelling and limit the metastasis of cancer cells. The following types of cancers are often targeted with lasers :
- Skin cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Penile cancer
- Basal cell cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Lung cancer
- Vocal Cords
- Esophageal cancer
- Prostate Cancer
*A technology developed by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Steba Biotech uses lasers and a drug developed from deep sea bacteria to eliminate cancerous prostate tumors. The treatment has been shown to be effective in 49% of the men treated (there was no remaining trace of cancer) without causing severe side effects .
- Breast Cancer 
*Experimental studies have shown a marked reduction in local tumor recurrence following breast cancer surgery using CO2 lasers .
Laser surgery and therapy is FDA approved in some cases and used in tandem with conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Though the use of lasers to sensitize cancer cells for their destruction is novel, this treatment may still involve the use of chemotherapy and radiation. At certain clinics like Hope4Cancer, curcumin or hypericin is used instead of chemotherapy. The surgical removal of cancer cells either using lasers or a scalpel is considered standard in conventional medicine, but is less accepted in alternative, integrative, and complementary medicine because practitioners believe that surgery can debilitate the immune system and lead to cancer recurrence.
The American public has been particularly influenced through marketing to believe that high-tech treatments are always superior than treatments that involve less technology even though research has shown that high-level technology doesn’t produce better results. Laser technology is an “easy-sell” to patients who don’t realize that high-tech treatments are not regulated with the same scrutiny as pharmaceutical medications and they may cost more, pose higher risks, and fail to produce better outcomes than therapies that involve less technology (like patient nutritional and lifestyle modifications) .
Safety and Effectiveness
There are a wide variety of different types of laser treatment strategies available for cancer. Some of laser treatments are designed to kill cancer cells while other laser treatment strategies are merely palliative (used to make patients more comfortable). Laser surgery can reduce recovery time from cancer surgery in comparison with recovery time required from conventional surgical techniques, but patients differ in terms of their response to laser treatments. For some patients there may be a lot of swelling and pain at the treatment site, while others may experience very little pain and swelling .
How Laser Therapy Is Administered
Laser therapy is administered using specialized machines calibrated to produce and direct light energy through instruments that the doctor can control.
Possible Negative Effects
The most common side effects of Photodynamic Therapy include:
- Light sensitivity for up to 3 months following treatment (including both the skin and the eyes) 
- Swelling at the treatment site 
- Pain at the treatment site 
Other Important Information
Light therapy involving lasers has great potential in the treatment of cancer, but patients need to be aware of their options and understand that lasers are often used just as an alternative to the use of a scalpel for surgery. A number of recent studies have demonstrated that surgery isn’t always the best option for cancer patients . Many integrative medicine practitioners believe that removing cancer cells using surgery is like covering up a ventilation hole. Since surgery doesn’t address underlying issues in the body that ultimately led to the development of cancer, surgery is not always the right choice. Talk with your doctor to understand the treatment that’s being applied to your cancer. Photodynamic therapy can be applied in a way that doesn’t damage the body in alternative cancer treatment facilities or it can be applied in a way that’s very similar to the conventional cancer protocol that includes surgery, chemo, and radiation therapies.
Research has shown that Americans are particularly enamored with medical technologies , not because these technologies enhance the practice of medicine in all cases, but because these technologies have been well-marketed to the general public . Medical technologies can be misused by poorly trained medical professionals, producing undesirable results. Technology can pose safety hazards for patients and the medical professionals who use them. And medical technologies can slowly degrade, posing increasing risks to patients over time . When patients are trying to make a decision about how to treat cancer, it’s important that patients know that higher technology doesn’t assure better health outcomes in all cases . The high-tech medical culture in the United States provides an excellent example of how technology has failed to assure good outcomes for patients .
The use of laser technologies may be worth considering in some cases, but patients need to educate themselves on the possibilities and not just rely on the knee-jerk reflex that high-tech treatments are always the best choice . As patients become more aware of the fact that marketing has created a social milieu that advocates for the use of technology even when other treatment options may provide better outcomes, the medical system that promotes high-tech devices and treatments will change to reflect that demand.
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