PUVA Therapy (Photochemotherapy)

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What is PUVA?

PUVA is an acronym. The P stands for psoralen, the U for ultra, the V for violet and the A for that portion of the solar spectrum between 290 and 320 nanometers in wavelength. Psoralens are chemicals found in certain plants that have the ability to absorb ultraviolet light in these wavelengths. Once the light energy is absorbed, these chemicals are energized to interact with DNA, ultimately inhibiting cell multiplication, which is their presumed mode of action.

Certain skin diseases are characterized by cells that are rapidly multiplying. Inhibiting this unrestrained multiplication can be useful in treating these diseases. So PUVA is a combination of an oral drug and subsequent ultraviolet light exposure. The treatment may affect certain blood cells and skin cells so that the skin disease clears.

What diseases does PUVA therapy treat?

One of the skin diseases for which PUVA is used and for which it was originally developed is psoriasis. The psoralen, 8-methoxy psoralen (8-MOP) (Oxsoralen), is used for the treatment of psoriasis along with exposures to ultraviolet light in the UVA spectrum. PUVA is also of benefit in treating vitiligo, mycosis fungoides (cutaneous T cell lymphoma), and graft versus host disease.

What are the different types of PUVA therapy?

The most common form of therapy combines psoralen 8-methoxypsoralen taken by mouth followed 45-60 minutes later by exposure of the skin to ultraviolet light. Less commonly the drug is applied topically (the medication is occasionally diluted in bathtub water in which the patient is immersed) and then after a few minutes the ultraviolet exposure occurs.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/30/2012

Get the facts about PUVA treatment for psoriasis.

Psoriasis PUVA Treatment Can Increase Melanoma Risk

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Psoriasis is a chronic disorder of the skin characterized by reddish, scaly patches of inflammation, most commonly affecting the elbows, knees, scalp, and/or groin. Psoriasis can be mild or severe. When it is severe, it can adversely affect functions of daily living including work and social activities.

Psoriasis has been reported to affect approximately 2% of the world's population.

The treatment of psoriasis depends on its severity and location. Treatments range from local (cortisone cream application, emollients, coal tar, anthralin preparations, and sun exposure) to systemic (internal medications, including methotrexateand cyclosporine).

PUVA (psoralen and ultraviolet A radiation) treatment has been used for decades to treat severe psoriasis. In this "combination" therapy, the psoralen, taken internally, acts as a skin sensitizer. The "sensitized" skin affected by psoriasis can then be treated by ultraviolet A radiation.


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