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Photodynamic Therapy for Mesothelioma

After decades of mesothelioma research, experts have identified new treatment breakthroughs that target mesothelioma tumors. Photodynamic therapy — which uses light spectrums and medications to kill mesothelioma cells — is a new and effective treatment that can help patients.

Fact-Checked and Updated by: Jenna Tozzi, RN

Last updated:

What Is Photodynamic Therapy?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a promising new mesothelioma treatment still undergoing research in clinical trials. As a light-based treatment, photodynamic therapy works by aiming a special light directly at cancer cells treated with light-reactive drugs. This treatment kills mesothelioma cells while causing less damage to surrounding healthy cells.

Photodynamic therapyBecause mesothelioma is one of the toughest cancers to treat, doctors may combine multiple, targeted treatments together in a specific order to build a tailored treatment plan that’s unique to each patient. As a less invasive treatment method, photodynamic therapy is regarded as one of the best therapies to administer before or during surgery as part of a multimodal treatment plan.

Photodynamic therapy plays a supporting role in the surgical removal of mesothelioma tumors and has been shown to improve survival rates.

Learn how photodynamic therapy and other treatments can help you in our Free Mesothelioma Guide

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How Does Photodynamic Therapy Work?

At a basic level, photodynamic therapy is an anticancer light treatment. PDT uses a laser light that activates a drug, targeting mesothelioma cells specifically so that healthy cells in the lung aren’t harmed.

The process for photodynamic therapy follows these steps:

  1. A photosensitizing solution is injected into the patient.
  2. Between 1-3 days, the solution is absorbed by the cancerous cells.
  3. During intraoperative photodynamic therapy, a light is applied, causing the photosensitizer to chemically react, killing the mesothelioma cells.
  4. Any visible tumors are removed in surgery, and the light is applied to kill any remaining mesothelioma cells.

Benefits of Photodynamic Therapy for Mesothelioma

There are definite advantages to using photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma. It has few known side effects and is essential in prolonging the life of those diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Benefits of photodynamic therapy include:

  • Acting as a cancer-centric treatment, meaning less damage to healthy cells
  • Allowing repeated use on the tumor site with few side effects
  • Causing no long-term side effects
  • Ensuring uniform illumination of the chest cavity, making it easier to localize the mesothelioma
  • Improving life expectancy up to several months, and in some cases, years
  • Requiring fewer dosages than radiation

Current and Ongoing Research Into Photodynamic Therapy

Because of PDT’s encouraging survival results, the American Cancer Society has dedicated a lot of research to exploring this treatment. There are hundreds of clinical trials involving photodynamic therapy that have occurred over the past two decades.

The current and ongoing research into photodynamic therapy has shown that it may be a viable mainstream treatment for mesothelioma.

Photodynamic Therapy and Pleurectomy With Decortication Surgery

A recent study from the Raymond and Ruth Perelma School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the use of photodynamic therapy in conjunction with other treatments exposed a noticeable difference in their patients.

“The results yielded by the radical pleurectomy and adjuvant (after surgery) PDT were superior to other studies of surgical treatment plans with patients of similar demographics.”

– Penn Medicine

Doctors found that the preservation of both lungs drastically helped improve the survival rate of their patients, making PDT a key treatment therapy when treating this disease.

Photodynamic Therapy and Extrapleural Pneumonectomy Surgery

An initial experimental treatment combined surgery and PDT in 28 patients in two Dutch cancer centers during 1996.

Before extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery (a pleural mesothelioma surgery that removes the lung, portions of the diaphragm, and lining of the lung and heart), the photosensitive solution was given to patients 4 or 6 days before the light would be applied. After that, patients were treated under a subdued light for two weeks.

After the EPP, light probes were strategically placed into transparent tubes to place a seam within the chest cavity. This allowed doctors to remove the highlighted mesothelioma cells, using a combination of light and a photosensitive solution. In this study, 50% of patients were able to localize the disease for an average of 9 months.

Photodynamic Therapy Side Effects

As with any medical treatment, photodynamic therapy has side effects. However, PDT is still a less invasive option compared to some traditional methods.

Photodynamic therapy side effects may include:

  • Itchiness or burning near the administration area
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen skin

Previously, researchers were concerned about the toxicity levels in patients who underwent PDT. However, with further research and trials, doctors have found ways to limit toxicity levels in patients who undergo PDT.

Patients who undergo photodynamic therapy should avoid exposure to direct sunlight following treatment. The side effects, if any, will last less than 30 days. Ambient, indoor lighting may help break down the photosensitizer, which can speed up recovery time.

The best way to determine whether you’re a good candidate for photodynamic therapy is to speak with a mesothelioma doctor. Use our Free Doctor Match to find top specialists in your area.

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Undergoing Specialized Mesothelioma Treatment

Photodynamic therapy is one of many mesothelioma treatments that have the potential to change the lives of those living with this cancer. With few side effects and the possibility for a longer survival rate, it is one of the most promising treatments in expanding research for mesothelioma.

Clinical trials are currently accepting patients diagnosed with mesothelioma in experimental photodynamic therapy testing. If you’re interested in participating in photodynamic therapy clinical trials, talk to a specialist or contact our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 today.

Mesothelioma Photodynamic Therapy FAQs

Is photodynamic therapy used to treat mesothelioma?

Yes. Photodynamic therapy, while still being studied in clinical trials, has been shown to effectively treat mesothelioma and keep cells from spreading to distant parts of the body.

If you’d like to find a clinical trial using photodynamic therapy, contact our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933.

Is photodynamic therapy safe?

Yes. Though it’s still being studied in clinical trials, photodynamic therapy is actually thought to have fewer side effects than leading treatments like chemotherapy.

In the most extreme cases, patients experience temporary light sensitivity, and the mildest side effect involves itchiness or burning.

What is the best treatment for mesothelioma?

Each case of mesothelioma is unique. As result, there is not one method of mesothelioma treatment that is the best.

Instead, many mesothelioma specialists may recommend multimodal therapies, which combine multiple treatment methods into one treatment plan.

Jenna TozziWritten by:

Director of Patient Advocacy

Jenna Tozzi, RN, is the Director of Patient Advocacy at Mesothelioma Hope. With more than 15 years of experience as an adult and pediatric oncology nurse navigator, Jenna provides exceptional guidance and support to mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. Jenna has been featured in Oncology Nursing News and is a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators & the American Nurses Association.

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  1. Cengel, K. A. (2014). Photodynamic Therapy for Lung Cancer and Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Seminars in oncology, 41(6), 820. Retrieved from: Accessed on December 29, 2022.

  2. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. (2019). “Photodynamic therapy for solid tumors: A review of the literature.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 29, 2022.

  3. Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Mesothelioma Treatment.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 29, 2022.

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