PhotoDynamic Therapy for NSCLC

Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Weekly Newsletter #62 11/21/02

New Light on an Old Problem

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is much more effective for lung cancer than was previously thought, Thomas Jefferson University researchers said last week. They presented their latest data at Chest 2002, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, in San Diego.

Patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) usually live only six to nine months, even after receiving chemotherapy. However, these researchers reported that patients with NSCLC whose disease had spread to the chest lived three to four times longer if they were given PDT.

PDT is based on the activation of a photosensitizing agent by light in the presence of oxygen, triggering a release of free radicals that destroy cancerous tissue from the inside out.

Each patient in this study was first given standard chemotherapy until their cancer had begun to progress. The patient was then given the FDA-approved photosensitizing drug Photofrin 24 hours before further surgery. During this surgery, their thoracic cavity was exposed to light. Half of the patients who were treated in this way have lived more than 23 months, which is around three to four times the expected period of survival.

Joseph Friedberg, MD, head of thoracic surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, told BBC News Online that the results far surpassed his expectations. "We had hoped the PDT would be effective in decreasing the local recurrence rate and it has," he said. "It surprised us that we appear to have made such an impact on survival."

While admitting that the number of patients treated was small, he added, "If these results continue, this would be a significant advance in the treatment of this type of lung cancer."

Prof. Martyn Partridge, chairman of the British Thoracic Society, told the BBC that more work was now needed to directly compare patients who are given PDT with those who are not. "This is a very interesting observation," he said, "but it's surprising, and we now need to see this evaluated in a proper randomised controlled trial."

The type of PDT given at Thomas Jefferson is innovative, but is not identical with the form of light therapy used at East Clinic in Ireland. East Clinic's unique Cytoluminescent Therapy utilizes different photosensitizing agents and light sources than those approved by the FDA.

Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Weekly Newsletter #62 11/21/02

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