Photodynamic Therapy: A Ray of Hope for Cancer Patients


Vol. 10, No. 3
September, 2000

  • Photodynamic Therapy: A Ray of Hope for Cancer Patients

  • Baclofen Pump Relieves Severe Muscle Stiffness

  • New Intervention Helps Seal Spinal Fractures

  • Winthrop’s Program of Radiography Accepts Applications

  • The Pediatric Special Care Unit
    A Regional Resource for Children Requiring Intensive Care

  • Neonatologist Awarded $2.186 Million for Multi-center Study

  • Prostate Cancer Screening Planned

  • Ambulatory Surgery Unit Now Operational

  • Parent Alert: Four-to-Eight-Year-Olds Need Booster Seats in Cars

  • New Poison Control Website

  • October is Breast Health Month

  • September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

  • Nurse Specialist Group
    An Educational Resource

  • More than 500 Celebrate Cancer Survivors Day

  • Board Member Theodora Hooten Receives Trustee of the Year” Award

  • New Conference Center and Library Dedicated

  • “Evidence-Based Medicine” Training Grant

  • Winthrop President and CEO Honored by Metropolitan Health Administrators’ Association

  • Hospital Volunteers Needed

  • An Enchanted Evening

  • Copyright

    Back to Publications


  • Frank Gress, MD, Chief of Endoscopy, (L) and his associate, Mo Barawi, MD, Attending Gastroenterologist, (R) display the photodynamic laser used to activate photosensitive medication which targets and destroys certain cancer cells.
    Plorence Luchs had lost hope. She had resigned herself to the idea that she was going to die of esophageal cancer. That's when her daughter, Sheila Ann Kogan, read about a completely new technique that was showing promise in treating cancers such as Mrs. Luchs'. It is called photodynamic therapy (PDT), a revolutionary treatment that uses a light-sensitive drug to selectively destroy cancer cells. Mrs. Luchs was one of the first patients to undergo the therapy at Winthrop recently.

    The key to PDT is the medication, which in addition to being photosensitive, tends to concentrate in malignant tissue. Laser light at a prescribed wavelength activates the drug, causing it to disrupt and ultimately kill cancer cells.

    Photodynamic therapy begins with the infusion of the medication, porfimer sodium, which is absorbed throughout the body. The medication remains in malignant cells for longer than it does in normal cells. Two days after the infusion, physicians endoscopically pass a laser light source into the esophagus to activate the drug as it lingers in the tumor cells.

    "Surgery is still the treatment of choice for most tumors," said Frank Gress, MD, Chief of Endoscopy at Winthrop. "However, for patients who are not candidates for surgery, early research indicates that PDT is at least as effective as radiation and chemotherapy for treating large tumors."

    PDT is being used against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, skin, head and neck. The technique also shows great promise in treating Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition caused by chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Barrett's esophagus affects between eight and 20 percent of all patients who are evaluated for symptoms of GERD. Currently surgery is the preferred treatment for advanced Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.

    "The main side effect of PDT is photosensitivity," explained Dr. Gress. "The medication concentrates in tumor cells, but smaller amounts also accumulate in the skin. Patients therefore must observe light precautions following treatment."

    Just two weeks after undergoing PDT, Mrs. Luchs' condition had improved. Dr. Gress reported that her esophageal tumors had shrunk. More importantly, her quality of life improved. "She is able to eat and drink normally and has gained weight," said Sheila Kogan. "She looks and feels better."

    For additional information on PDT at Winthrop, call Dr. Gress at (516) 663-8977.



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