What is photodynamic therapy for skin cancer?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses light sources combined with a light-sensitive drug (sometimes called a photosensitising agent) to destroy cancer cells. PDT is particularly useful in areas where the skin cancer develops directly over bone, such as in Bowen’s disease on the shins and hands.

Before your treatment, the doctor may remove any scabs from the area. A photosensitising cream (for example Metvix®) will then be applied to your skin. It will be left on for a specific time period, usually between 3–6 hours, depending on the type of cream that’s used. This is so it can penetrate into the skin.

After the cream is removed, the doctor shines a special light onto the treatment area. The light treatment usually lasts 8–45 minutes depending on the light source used. A dressing is then put on to cover the area and protect it from light. Keep the dressing on the treated area for up to 36 hours after your treatment. You’ll be given instructions about this before you leave hospital.

After PDT, a crust may form over the treated area. The crust will fall off naturally in a few weeks, leaving the healed, new skin underneath.

Usually, only one treatment of PDT is needed, but occasionally two or three further treatments may be given if your skin cancer is thick.

We have more information about photodynamic therapy (PDT).

Back to Other treatments

Photodynamic therapy

PDT uses light sources and a light-sensitive drug to destroy cancer cells. It’s used for some cancers and some pre-cancerous conditions.