Photodynamic Therapy (PDT or Blue Light Therapy)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What growths is PDT not good for?

PDT is not as effective for thick actinic keratoses due to the inability of the photosensitizer drug to penetrate into the depths of the lesion. These growths may need to be destroyed using some other technique.

PDT is not appropriate for more advanced skin cancers like basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, recurrent tumors, and malignant melanoma.

What are possible complications of photodynamic therapy?

Overall, most patients tolerate the minor procedure very well without any complications. However, PDT is associated with some possible minor risks and complications. Since an exaggerated light-sensitive reaction is expected by definition of PDT, most patients understand and expect some type of a sunburn or red reaction after skin PDT. Not everyone gets a sunburn reaction, however. Some patients may have no visible reaction or redness.

Possible risks and complications of photodynamic therapy include burning, skin discoloration, skin redness, prominent tiny blood vessels (telangeictasia), pain, infection, cold-sore activation, blisters, scabs, unsightly scars, cosmetic disfigurement, skin discoloration, eye injury or swelling, allergic reactions, prolonged sun sensitivity, and reaction to topical anesthesia.

Minor, serious, or life-threatening reactions can occur with the use of anesthetics or with medications given before, after, or during a procedure.

Is there scarring from photodynamic therapy?

No, PDT usually does not leave scars in typical cases. Overall when you undergo PDT, there will be some type of a red skin reaction and irritation for three to 10 days after the treatment. Some people are more sensitive to PDT and the light treatment than others. Similarly, some people heal better or faster than others. Some residual redness may be more noticeable depending on the location and skin type. Some people may have temporary skin discoloration that may last weeks to months. Patients with darker skin types may have more skin discoloration after treatment.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016

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