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Photodynamic Therapy as Mesothelioma Treatment: An In-Depth Look

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Its latency period (the time between initial exposure and diagnosis) is long compared with other cancer types. People with mesothelioma may not become aware of their cancer for decades after their first exposure to asbestos-containing materials. Mesothelioma grows and spreads with devastating speed, and unless the cancer is caught early and treated immediately, it can significantly shorten life expectancy.

What is Photodynamic Therapy?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an innovative treatment that has recently been approved for certain cancers, including malignant mesothelioma. For this cutting-edge treatment, a patient is injected with a specially designed drug. This drug travels to the area where the cancer is located but remains inert until activated by light. After the drug has been injected, a light emitting device is inserted into the region. This light activates the cancer-fighting drugs right in the area they are needed.

What Are the Benefits to Photodynamic Therapy?

PDT is minimally invasive and can be performed in an outpatient setting. This allows the patient to go home right after treatment rather than recuperating for days or even weeks in the hospital. In addition, PDT is a target treatment, so there is limited damage to healthy tissues surrounding the tumor.

PDT is also highly cost effective. It costs far less than other more-invasive treatments like surgery. Due to its non-invasive and comparably non-hazardous nature, PDT can be repeated with little time between treatment sessions. Side effects are few, and many patients report no adverse side effects. Potential complications, like sun sensitivity, are relatively non-hazardous and do not interfere with quality of life.

Are There Risks Involved with Photodynamic Therapy?

PDT is not entirely without side effects. It can induce photosensitivity, making sunburn and eye pain in well-lit areas problematic. Also, if the light used to activate the drugs penetrates non-cancerous tissues, those tissues may become inflamed. This inflammation can cause discomfort. In pleural mesothelioma, this may mean coughing and difficulty breathing. For peritoneal mesothelioma, this sometimes manifests as abdominal pain or a burning sensation near the area targeted during treatment.

Photodynamic Therapy vs. Other Treatment Methods

PDT has many benefits and few drawbacks compared with conventional methods of treatment. Here is a comparison between PDT and several other common cancer treatments used for malignant mesothelioma.


PDT is less invasive and more affordable than surgery. Recovery after treatment is faster and less difficult. Surgery also leaves scarring and carries several risks. The more invasive the surgery, the greater the potential risks. On the other hand, PDT treatment rarely leaves scars and can be carried out in an outpatient setting rather than a hospital.

Radiation Therapy

While PDT has a low incidence of unpleasant side effects, radiation therapy has a long list of them. In comparison, PDT is precisely targeted, treating the cancer directly while leaving healthy tissues mostly untouched. Radiation therapy has a deeper reach and can have a negative impact on healthy tissues surrounding the tumor. In other words, good, healthy tissue may be sacrificed during the course of radiation treatment.


Traditional chemotherapy involves administering drugs to patients. These drugs act systemically, affecting the patient’s entire body. Unfortunately, this causes several side effects. With PDT, the drugs are limited to the treatment area. THis allows the drugs to attack the cancer while leaving most healthy tissue unaffected. While chemotherapy patients report side effects like severe nausea, PDT side effects are rare and comparably mild.

Who Are the Best Candidates for Photodynamic Therapy?

PDT is most effective when used in cancers that are localized. Patients diagnosed in Stage I or Stage II may be good candidates for PDT.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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