Photodynamic Therapy for Pre-Cancers
Photodynamic Therapy treats Actinic Keratoses (AKs),
which are considered to be the first step in the
development of skin cancer. They have the potential to
progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Fortunately, we offer a therapy designed to fit your
busy lifestyle. our photodynamic therapy sessions offer
a short, 2-part treatment course, low downtime (although
you should avoid exposure of treated areas to sunlight
or intense lighting). Flexible treatment options coupled
with good results make this a perfect solution for our
busy Southern Californian lifestyles. Additionally, the
procedure offers excellent cosmetic response, with no
scarring reported to date.
Photodynamic Therapy for AKs involves a direct
application of aminolevulinic acid to the AK spots,
followed by Blu-U light treatment.
The Blu-U light is of low intensity and will not heat
the skin. However, during the light treatment, you may
experience sensations of burning, tingling, stinging, or
prickling of the treated AKs. These feelings of
discomfort should improve at the end of the Blu-U
treatment and should subside as early as 1 minute after
the treatment, but may take up to 24 hours to subside.
Following the treatment, the AKs and some degree of the
surrounding skin may redden, and swelling and/or scaling
may also occur. However, these effects are temporary and
should completely resolve by 4 weeks after treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions and Full Procedure
What are Actinic Keratoses?
Actinic Keratoses (AKs) are rough-textured, dry,
scaly patches on the skin that are caused by excessive
exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) such as sunlight.
More than 10 million Americans have AKs.
- AKs are often called "sun spots."
- They occur most often on the face, scalp, ears,
neck, hands, and arms.
- They can range in color from skin toned to
- They can be as small as a pinhead or larger than
Who Gets AKs?
AKs develop as the result of years of sun exposure.
Because the effect of sun exposure is cumulative, it is
your lifetime exposure that increases your risk. Even if
you didn't suntan much, years of just doing simple tasks
outside can add up to a significant amount of sun
exposure. For example:
- Going outside to the mailbox.
- Playing an outdoor sport.
- Walking the dog.
Because AKs take a long time to develop, they
generally appear after the age of 40. YOur risk of
developing AKs increases if you have one or more of the
- A history of cumulative sun exposure.
- Fair skin.
- Blonde or red hair, in particular if combined
with blue, hazel, or green eyes.
- A tendency to freckle or burn after sun
- A weakened immune system.
Actinic Keratoses is the Most Common Precancer
AKs are considered to be the first step in the
development of skin cancer. They have the potential to
progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). While most
AKs remain benign, a study has shown that approximately
10 percent develop into SCC within an average of 2
years. Since there is no way to know ahead of time which
AKs will develop into SCC, it is very important for
individuals with AKs to be under a dermatologist's care.
Frequent skin examinations are the key to early
detection and prevention.
Why is Photodynamic Therapy a Good Choice for You?
- Short, 2-part treatment course.
- Low downtime (although patients must avoid
exposure ofphotosensitized lesions to sunlight or
prolonged or intense light for at least 40 hours)
- It is easy because:
- A qualified healthcare professional will
administer the treatment.
- No prescription to fill
- No daily medication to remember
- Appropriate for a few AKs
- Appropriate for multiple AKs
- Compatible with your daily routine.
- Good results:
- Recovery begins right after your blue light
- Excellent cosmetic response.
- No scarring reported to date.
How does Photodynamic Therapy Work?
Aminolevulinic Acid solution is applied to the AK;
patients will wait in our lobby for 30-60 minutes to
allow the solution to penetrate into the AK. The
solution is then absorbed by the AK cells where it is
converted to a chemical that makes the cells extremely
sensitive to light. When the AK cells are exposed to the
blue light, a reaction occurs which destroys the AK
Two-Step Treatment: In Depth
Aminolevulinic Acid will be applied to
your AK lesions. Patients will wait in our lobby for
30-60 minutes to allow the solution to penetrate into
the targeted cells. Avoid exposing the treated lesions
to sunlight and other forms of bright light for at least
48 hours. Examples include household lights at close
range or playing a sport such as golf. Sunscreens will
not protect against photosensitivity reactions caused by
visible light during this time.
Before your BLU-U light treatment, the AKs
to be treated should be gently rinsed and patted dry.
Your treatment with the BLU-U will be determined by your
provider on a case-by-case basis. Protective eyewear
should be worn during your BLU-U treatment.
During BLU-U Treatment:
The BLU-U blue light is of low intensity and will not
heat the skin. However, during the light treatment, you
may experience sensations of burning, tingling,
stinging, or prickling of the treated AKs. These
feelings of discomfort should improve at the end of the
BLU-U treatment and should subside as early as 1 minute
after BLU-U treatment, but may take up to 24 hours after
your treatment has ended. Following the treatment, the
AKs and to some degree the surrounding skin may redden,
and swelling and scaling may occur.
Before and After Your Treatment...
Before your treatment, be sure to tell your physician
if you are taking any oral medications or using any
topical prescription or non-prescription products on
your face or scalp. Bring adequate sun-protective items
with you to your appointment, such as a wide-brimmed hat
After your treatment, avoid exposure of your
aminolevulinic acid treated face or scalp to sunlight or
bright indoor lighting prior to and for at least 48
hours after the application of aminolevulinic acid.
Sunscreens will not protect against photosensitivity
reactions caused by visible light. Moisturizers may be
applied as needed.
Who Should Not use Aminolevulinic Acid?
Aminolevulinic Acid should not be used by patients
who have cutaneous photosensitivity at wavelengths at
400-450 nm, porphyria, or known allergies to porphyrins,
and in patients with known sensitivity to any of the
components of aminolevulinic acid. The solution has not
been tested on patients with inherited or acquired
coagulation defects. It is possible that concomitant use
of other known photosensitizing agents might increase
the photosensitivity reaction of AKs treated with
aminolevulinic acid. It is important to tell your
physician if you are taking any oral medications or
using any topical prescription or non-prescription
products on your face or scalp. Tell your doctor if you
are pregnant or nursing.
What are the Possible Side Effects?
The most common side effects include
scaling/crusting, skin discoloration, itching, stinging,
and/or burning, redness, and swelling. Severe stinging
and/or burning at one or more lesions being treated was
reported by at least 50% of patients at some time during
Go back to Dermatology Patient Education