Photodynamic Therapy for Treatment of Skin Cancer and Aging Skin

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)


Kimberly Moskowitz, MS, MD
Photodynamic therapy is today’s leading non-surgical miracle for aging skin, acne, and skin cancer and Pre-cancers.   A small vial of clear, painless, liquid that brilliantly erases decades of aging skin including sun damage, wrinkles, dilated capillaries, and early skin cancers.  This “youth serum” is also a God-send for teens as it cures even the most stubborn cases of moderate to severe acne.


The treatment, known as Photodynamic Therapy (PDT), relies on the use of a naturally occurring enzyme, 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA). When applied directly to the skin, ALA (Levulan™) is selectively absorbed by rapidly growing cells such as cancers, pre-cancers, and sun spots, as well as acne-causing bacteria and sebaceous glands.   Within these cells, ALA reacts with oxygen and becomes highly excitable when exposed to specific wavelengths of light energy.   In this excitable state, ALA destroys the targeted cells and simultaneously stimulates  collagen formation that fills in acne scars and leaves skin firmer, tighter,  and more youthful.

More than 5 million cases of skin cancer, mostly Basal cell and Squamous cell carcinoma, affect Americans each year.  These non-melanoma skin cancers attack sun-exposed skin on the face, hands, arms, shoulders, chest and back.  For every visible skin cancer, there are often hundreds of pre-cancerous lesions (actinic keratoses) lurking beneath the surface.  Left untreated, these scaly brown or reddish growths can evolve into invasive squamous cell carcinomas.  Actinic Keratoses are by far the most common lesion with malignant potential to arise on the skin.  Traditionally, these growths have required freezing (cryotherapy), scraping (curettage), or surgical procedures that result in scarring or loss of pigment.

Newer therapies involve topical chemotherapy creams that are applied daily for several weeks to months.  These creams are effective when used correctly, but treated areas develop painful ulcerations and crusting that lasts as long as 4-12 weeks.  Because of this, patient compliance is difficult, and it is nearly impossible to treat large areas at a time.  ALA, on the other hand, is easily applied to diffuse areas, such as the entire face, hands, arms, or back.   A

single one hour treatment of PDT is as effective and much easier to tolerate than 4-12 weeks of the other topical regimens.  PDT is non-invasive, virtually painless, and you leave the office feeling like you have a mild to medium sunburn.  Over the next several days, the unhealthy cells rapidly crust and peel off, leaving healthy new skin behind.   This short recovery time (1-2 weeks of redness and mild swelling) is less painful than other treatments and results so far have been excellent.  Studies report between 85 -100% clearance for actinic keratoses, superficial basal cell and some early squamous cell cancers.  Whereas traditional therapies rely on lesions being visible at the time of treatment, Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) precisely destroys  abnormal cells even before they are visible on the skin’s surface.

In addition to being both curative and preventative for most early skin cancers, patients achieve amazing cosmetic benefits from only one or two treatments.  Research shows that 94% of patients have significant reduction in fine lines, deep wrinkles, skin tightening, sun-spots, pore size, dilated facial veins, redness, and rosacea. PDT is also a major breakthrough in treating moderate to severe acne and sebaceous hyperplasia.  Typically, one to four treatments reduces acne breakouts and acne scarring in more than 85% of patients. PDT has become one of the most exciting and versatile therapeutic modalities for dermatologists, laser specialists, and patients in all decades of life.  It allows us to wipe the slate clean, leaving skin healthy, younger, and cancer-free.   You may not be able to drink from the elusive fountain of youth but research shows that you can drench your aging skin in this miraculous serum to reverse the ravages of time.      Ponce De Leon may not have found exactly what he was looking for but we are getting very close.


Posted in: Age spots Hands, Age Spots- Getting Rid of Age Spots, Skin Cancer Treatments


  1. PDT is one of my favorite treatments to perform because it takes away years of sun damage and aging in a an hour. Leaves skin baby fresh and insurance often pays for the treatment if you have any pre-cancerous lesions. Thanks for reading.

    Comment by editor on July 19, 2014 at 10:21 pm

The comments are closed.

Request an Appointment

  • * All indicated fields must be completed.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.