Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)……… what is it and how does it prevent skin cancer?

What if we told you that Photodynamic therapy is a prevention method for skin cancers before they develop?  An alternative to having suspicious skin spots frozen off or cut out?  A preventative treatment for people prone to sun damage and non-melanoma skin cancer?  We are tipping you would want to know more and rightly so!  Let us step you through Photodynamic Therapy.


Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) involves a liquid with an active ingredient being applied to the skin where it absorbs and incubates for a set period of time (generally between 1-3 hours).

During this incubation period, the liquid selectively enters into sun damaged, pre-cancerous and cancerous skin cells. It does not enter the healthy skin cells.

After the incubation time, the skin is exposed to blue and red LED lights that cause the active ingredient to destroy the abnormal cells, while leaving the healthy skin cells alone.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a “field” treatment – it treats the whole area of skin. Generally, one area is treated per session, this may be the whole face, the scalp and forehead, or the forearms and hands.

As the whole “field” is treated, not only do sunspots disappear, but areas in between that may be developing into solar keratosis or skin cancers in the near future are also treated.  Thus PDT is also a preventive treatment.


Who is the ideal patient for Photodynamic Therapy?

Anyone with sun damage spots (actinic or solar keratoses) will benefit from PDT.

Anyone with a history of SCC or BCC skin cancers should consider PDT as a preventive measure


Sun damage / actinic keratoses. Images courtesy of Dermnet


Does Photodynamic Therapy work for…..

SCCs and BCCs? (Non pigmented skin cancers)?

Yes, small BCCs and SCCs can be treated with Photodynamic Therapy. Larger ones will need excision. After excision, if the margins are positive (small amounts of cancerous cells may have been left behind) then PDT may be an appropriate treatment rather than re-excision.


Solar or actinic keratosis? (Sun damage spots)

Yes, these are the ideal lesions to treat with Photodynamic Therapy.  The PDT will not only treat the actinic keratosis patches but also catch any cells in between that are starting to form actinic keratosis but not to the extent they are visible yet.



No, any lesion suspicious of being a melanoma should not be treated with Photodynamic Therapy.  It is important these lesions are excised. You need have a full skin check with a doctor prior to PDT to check your skin lesions are ideal for treatment with PDT rather than other methods.


Is it painful?

When the red and blue lights are applied you will feel a tingling or prickly sensation. This can vary from mild to quite severe.  If there is severe discomfort then cooling spray and fans can be applied.

The treatment settings can also be adjusted. The LED light settings at Geelong Veins Skin & Laser are very precise, causing the right amount of cell destruction with the least amount of discomfort compared with other LED lights.

After the treatment, you will have redness and discomfort of the skin.  This is an expected side effect. If there is no discomfort in the following days then the treatment has not worked sufficiently.


What is the downtime?

This is a treatment where you need to plan and modify your activities in the following week.  Immediately after Photodynamic Therapy, you need to return home or to an indoor location away from sunlight and bright synthetic lights for the remainder of the day. You will need to wear a hat and veil and/or gloves to cover all treated areas of skin.

For at least 7 days after Photodynamic Therapy, you should expect some degree of redness, swelling and peeling skin. Many patients will take time off work to recover.  A doctor’s certificate can be issued if necessary.


What is the preparation?

You will need to attend Geelong Veins Skin and Laser approximately 2 weeks prior to your Photodynamic Therapy to discuss the treatment with one of our dermal therapists and learn about skin preparation prior to PDT.

Who will I see for my appointment?

A full skin check with one of the doctor’s at Geelong Veins Skin and Laser is recommended prior to booking Photodynamic Therapy. It is important to diagnose your skin lesions accurately and check they are appropriate for PDT.

You will then see our highly trained dermal therapists for the pre-consultation and the Photo Dynamic Therapy.

You will then have a follow-up appointment made with the initial skin doctor you have seen to check for full resolution of your skin lesions at around 4 weeks post-treatment.

PDT results

Images courtesy of Allmedic


Photodynamic Therapy sun damage treatments typically consist of one initial treatment and then follow up depending on the degree of sun damage. Some experts in the USA recommend yearly PDT for people over the age of 40 with significant sun damaged skin.

For the month of July 2018, Geelong Veins Skin and Laser are offering Photodynamic Therapy of full face/or both forearms and hands for $395, usually priced $495.

Please do not hesitate to contact us to learn more or book an appointment for Photodynamic Therapy,

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