Photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be used for some very small cancers or precancerous changes in the esophagus to try to eliminate disease. If the patient’s cancer is larger and causing symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or bleeding, PDT can be used to help these symptoms. Patients receive an injection of a light-sensitive drug that remains in cancer cells longer than in healthy cells. They then have an endoscopy, during which the physician will place a laser light in the esophagus that reacts with the drug in the cancer cells to destroy these cells.

How to Prepare for PDT

It is important to follow any physician instructions to prepare for surgery.

What to Expect During PDT

Each session of PDT is relatively simple. Patients receive either a photosensitizer drug and wait until it has concentrated in the tumor, or they may have the drug administered and return days later for phototreatment. Phototreatment takes place on an exam table, and the patient receives local or general medicines for pain control and relaxation. The appropriate type of light is activated over the tumor in a strong, targeted beam. The procedure lasts as little as a few minutes, and up to two hours.

Recovery from PDT

Recovery from PDT is typically quite easy. Patients may experience some dryness or mild burning on the skin, but other effects are uncommon. Gentle skin products such as Vaseline can be helpful. Avoid the sun, as light sensitivity is increased for a time following PDT; even a few minutes of sun exposure can sometimes cause discomfort. Please follow any doctor's instructions regarding medications and physical activity, but most patients are able to return to normal activities right away.