Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a medical treatment that involves two steps: the use of a light-sensitive drug and the application of a light source to destroy abnormal cells. The drug used in PDT is also referred to as a photosensitizer, which is designed to eliminate cancerous and precancerous cells, as well as treat sun damage after being activated by a specific wavelength of light energy. When combined, the photosensitizer and light source cause a reaction that can remove unwanted cells and provide you with a healthy, improved appearance.

Uses of Photodynamic Therapy 

At Scherl Dermatology, we are committed to recognizing the needs of each patient and fully understanding the patient’s skin conditions to provide the best treatment options, including Photodynamic Therapy. In our New Jersey office, we use PDT to treat a variety of conditions such as:

Photodynamic Therapy treatment for acne is also an option, but generally we do not use PDT for this purpose at our office. 

How Photodynamic Therapy Works

PDT is a special type of phototherapy that works by causing direct damage to the target abnormal cells and tissues. While phototherapy uses ultraviolet (UV) light to treat the skin, PDT utilizes the combination of visible light and a specific type of medication that is applied to the skin.

The treatment involves the production of an activated oxygen molecule that can effectively destroy surrounding cells. Since the normal skin barrier is absent in areas affected by actinic keratoses, the photosensitizer is preferentially absorbed and then activated when exposed to light. The activated oxygen molecules will injure and destroy the abnormal tissues. Our doctors use Ameluz as a photosensitizer. It is indicated for the treatment of actinic keratosis of mild-to-moderate severity on the face and scalp.

What Light Sources are Used for Photodynamic Therapy?

PDT light sources include intense pulsed light, laser light, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), blue light, and red light. The optimal light source will depend on the condition being treated, the ideal wavelength to be used, and the particular photosensitizer to be applied. At our Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey office, Dr. Scherl uses a BF-RhodoLED lamp, a narrowband, red light illumination source to activate Ameluz. 

Benefits of Photodynamic Therapy

PDT can be effective for pre-cancerous lesions and may work as well as radiation therapy or surgery in treating certain kinds of pre-cancers. It offers advantages such as:

  • It has no known long-term side effects when used properly
  • It is usually a short, outpatient procedure
  • It is less invasive than surgery
  • It can precisely target the skin cells to be treated
  • It is safe to be repeated many times if necessary (unlike radiation)
  • It usually leaves little to no scarring on the treatment areas
  • It often costs less than other cancer treatments

The Procedure

Most PDT treatments are performed as outpatient procedures. Treatment will typically involve these steps:

  • You will sit or lie on an examination table, exposing the treatment area
  • The treatment area will be thoroughly cleansed
  • The topical photosensitizing agent Ameluz will be applied to the treatment area, then the agent will be absorbed by the skin.
  • The treatment areas will be exposed to light for a predetermined amount of time.
  • You will wear protective clothing and gear (e.g., gloves, long pants, goggles) to protect healthy skin when you leave the office

Recovery After Photodynamic Therapy

Treatment areas will be covered with a dressing that should be worn for about a day. Specific care instructions will be provided. After the procedure, you must strictly avoid sunlight for at least 48 hours. UV exposure will further activate the drug, which may result in severe sunburns. To help protect your skin, you must:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible
  • Avoid direct and bright indoor lights
  • If going outside, wear protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats to avoid sunlight
  • Avoid areas where strong light may be reflected (e.g. beach, snow, light-colored concrete)

Keep the treated area as dry as possible and avoid touching or scratching it. Once you’re advised to remove the dressing, you may wash the area, but be sure to gently pat the treated area dry. You will have a follow-up appointment in our office to determine whether the treatment has been effective or if an additional session will be necessary. Depending on the target area and size, it may take around 2 to 6 weeks for the treatment area to completely heal.

Short-Term Side Effects of Photodynamic Therapy

PDT is a generally safe procedure, but as with any light, energy, or laser therapy, there may be temporary side effects that will vary from one patient to another. Overall, you might look like you have a sunburn after your treatment, which may include side effects like:

  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Blistering followed by a scabby crust
  • Photosensitivity 
  • Skin discoloration


Who are Good Candidates for Photodynamic Therapy?

The best candidates for PDT may be those with lighter or fair skin with sun damage. You may not be a good candidate for PDT if:

  • You have darker skin that tends to brown or discolor with light exposure or light and laser treatments
  • You are sensitive to light or burn easily
  • You take medications that make you sensitive to sunlight or laser and light-based therapies
  • You have certain medical conditions that can increase your risk of burning from the light exposure (e.g. systemic lupus erythematosus)


Schedule a Photodynamic Therapy Session Today

To learn more about Photodynamic Therapy and how it can be used to address your skin condition, contact our Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey office. At Scherl Dermatology, we partner with you for beautiful, healthy skin.



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