Malignant lung cancer is a serious danger to the patient, and all too common. It is estimated that over 225,000 people will be diagnosed with this disease in 2020 alone. Because of the danger to such a vital organ and the complexities of reaching the lungs, this type of cancer may require multiple forms of treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and invasive surgery are all distinct possibilities and may be combined with one another. Depending on what kind of cancer you have, supplemental procedures such as photodynamic therapy may be recommended.
Shining Light on the Subject
In photodynamic therapy (PDT), light becomes the main means of treatment. Because the lungs are relatively hollow and made of soft tissue, they conduct light easily, especially in the infrared or near-visible range. PDT can be used as a treatment on its own or as a supplementary treatment, depending on the type of cancer or the size of the tumor.
The treatment includes two stages. In the first, a chemical photosensitizer is introduced to the lung tissue, either by having the patient swallow it or injecting it. The photosensitizer bonds to the body’s tissues and makes these tissues exceptionally sensitive to light; as a result, patients need to be careful not to expose themselves to light until they are told it is safe by their doctor.
In the second stage, light is delivered to the photosensitized tissues by LED or laser from a tool called a bronchoscope. When light strikes the photosensitizer, it creates a chemical reaction that causes the cellular polymers to contract. This pulls the cancer tissues apart and causes the individual cancer cells to rapidly increase in toxicity, killing both themselves and the other cancerous cells around them.
Researchers hope to make this the new standard of treatment for more cancers than just that of the lung. It’s non-invasive and less damaging than current chemotherapy methods, both distinct advantages over the treatments currently available for the vast majority of cancer patients.
The most difficult side effect of this treatment is the delay between taking the photosensitizer drug and the actual treatment. During this time, patients are advised to stay out of bright light of any kind, indoors or out. If you must go outside, it is essential to cover as much skin as possible and wear sunglasses at all times.
After the treatment, patients may notice residual pain or swelling from the bronchoscope and traces of blood in their phlegm. This is normal and should resolve itself in relatively short order. However, a doctor should be alerted immediately if the patient begins coughing blood.
Photodynamic therapy may cause brief changes in other systems in the body. These changes can include shifts in the skin or immune system, both of which can be weakened by this treatment. These conditions are usually temporary; consult a doctor immediately if they worsen or become persistent.
To Sum Up:
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a chemical reaction to light to make lung cancer cells kill themselves off.
- The treatment comes in two stages–introducing the chemicals to the cancer cells and shining light on them to begin the reaction.
- PDT can be used both as a main treatment or a supplementary procedure depending on the exact nature of the case.
- PDT has side effects like increased sensitivity to light and pain from the insertion of the PDT apparatus. The patient should monitor side effects carefully and report to a doctor if they worsen.