Traditional therapies for lung cancer treatment have included staples like surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These lung cancer treatment options have been tried and tested in scores of patients for many years. But these types of treatment options may not be right for all lung cancer sufferers. Some patients cannot tolerate the side effects of these treatments, or may not be well enough to undergo surgery. Luckily, new lung cancer treatments are still being developed for targeting this devastating disease. Among the newest treatment options is photodynamic therapy.
This experimental new treatment differs from chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancerous cells, and radiotherapy, which uses high-dose radiation to destroy cancer. Instead, photodynamic therapy employs light to kill off cancer cells. First, a drug is injected into the blood or put on the skin. This drug can be absorbed by cancer cells once it is inside the body. Next, light is employed. This may take place within a few hours of the drug being given to the patient, or it may take place after several days. Certain kinds of light cause a reaction from the drug. The drug reacts with oxygen, producing a chemical that can kill nearby cancer cells.
That which makes the photodynamic process reffective also limits it, however. If light cannot reach the drug, it cannot cause the necessary reaction that kills the cancer. Therefore, it only works in places in the body that light can reach, such as the skin and the lining of internal organs. For lung cancer patients, this means that the therapy could be an option for those with mesothelioma, which affects the lining around the lungs. However, even in the case of mesothelioma, if the cancer has spread to many places throughout the body, photodynamic therapy will not be effective because it will not be able to reach all of those sites.
However, there are many benefits to this new brand of treatment as well. It has no long-term side effects, for example. Other therapies, particularly chemotherapy, have long-term side effects that some patients cannot or do not wish to tolerate. And, photodynamic therapy is much less invasive than surgery used to find and remove a cancerous tumor.
Like surgery, photodynamic can precisely target cancerous cells. But unlike radiotherapy and other treatments, it can be used many times on the same part of the body if necessary. And patients will not need to be concerned about much, if any, scarring from the procedure. There are downsides however. Patients who get this type of treatment could be sensitive to light, both in their eyes and skin. This sensitivity could last six weeks or more. And patients could also experience temporary nausea and vomiting from the treatment.
Currently, photodynamic therapy is being explored experimentally as an option for mesothelioma patients. It is already in use for non-small cell lung cancer, however. Researchers are also exploring the possibility of combining this therapy with other forms of treatment. For example, it could be combined with surgery. If surgery was used to remove cancer from the lungs, then photodynamic therapy could be used on top of that to keep it from coming back in places like the pleura, or lining of the lung. Researchers are also hoping to one day make photodynamic therapy useful as a treatment against large, solid tumors. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration has already approved several photodynamic drugs.