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Photodynamic therapy is a safe and effective non-surgical alternative for certain low risk skin cancers (e.g. superficial basal cell carcinoma and intraepidermal carcinoma/Bowen’s disease) and for precancerous lesions such as actinic keratosis (sun spots).

PDT utilizes photosensitizing medication, oxygen and light, to create a photochemical reaction that selectively destroys cancer cells and minimizes injury to normal skin cells.

The main advantage of PDT is that it can eradicate the lesions with typically excellent cosmetic result, and allows you to avoid the surgical scars that inevitably result from surgical procedures. It can also avoid some of the other complications of surgery, such as the risks of infection, dehiscence and prolonged discomfort/sensation changes after surgery.

Side Effects

Due to the non-invasive and selective nature of the treatment, the potential for scarring and side effects are minimized, however some pain & redness of the area may occur. Within a few days, the exposed skin and basal cell carcinoma will scab over and flake away.

Short term effects:

  • Pain (common): Usually mild burning sensation – sometimes more intense. Local anesthetic can be used. Pain is usually much shorter duration and less severe than for surgery.
  • Redness (common): Usually lasts up to a few weeks; rarely, it can be long lasting.
  • Swelling (common): Usually lasts several days.
  • Pustules (common): Tiny white pustules are common, and are not an indication of infection. These disappear over several days.
  • Blistering (uncommon).
  • Ulceration (uncommon).
  • Infection (rare).

Medium to Longer term effects:

  • Hyperpigmentation (common): The skin at the treated site may be darker than the surrounding skin (like an area of dark tan) for several months. It usually settles spontaneously, and can be improved faster with fading creams if needed.
  • Hypopigmentation (uncommon): The treated area may be paler than the surrounding skin.
  • Scarring (rare): True scarring is rare. There may however be a tiny scar from the biopsy done to diagnose the lesion.

After Care

Minimal aftercare is needed. Simple analgesia (e.g. paracetamol) may help with minor discomfort. An ointment such as Vaseline or white soft paraffin can help speed skin healing.

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