Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) for non-melanoma skin cancers

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a relatively new treatment for certain types of non-melanoma skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions, particularly Actinic Keratoses (AK), Bowen’s disease (BD) and Superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). Actinic Keratoses and Bowen’s disease are within the spectrum of precancerous skin lesions.

Basal cell carcinomas are the commonest non-melanoma skin cancer in the UK. PDT utilizes a light sensitive (photosensitive) cream, oxygen and light, to create a photochemical reaction that selectively destroys cancer cells.

A dermatologist will first perform a consultation to diagnose the skin lesions and ensure they are suitable for PDT treatment. Sometimes a skin biopsy is required to clarify the diagnosis before proceeding with treatment. PDT treatment involves a two-stage process.

Skin cancer

Stage one involves involving preparing the skin lesion and then applying a photosensitising cream. The cream is secured in place using a dressing and left to absorb for three hours during which time the patient can leave the unit.

Stage two involves removing the dressing and any residual cream, and then shining a strong red light directly onto affected area for around ten minutes. The light activates the drug in the cream, which causes a photochemical reaction destroying the abnormal cells. The treated lesion is protected from light exposure for 24 hours with a dressing. Following PDT a sun burn like local skin reaction may follow which resolves gradually over days and weeks.

To treat AK one treatment is required, but for BD and BCC two treatments are given approximately one week apart. A follow up consultation is required three months after treatment has been completed to assess treatment response. PDT treatment is a non-invasive treatment option that often results in less scarring and better cosmetic outcomes compared with surgery.

This procedure does not generally require an anaesthetic and is performed in the outpatients department. Most UK insurance policies cover this procedure (but we advise that you check with your insurer before having any treatment) and is also available for self-funding patients.

To book a consultation with Dr Kaur, please call 0121 580 7151. For further information or self-pay enquiries, please contact 0121 580 7119 or email

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