Originally Released: November, 1998
Patient / Consumer Inquiries: 1-800-492-5538
Media Contact: 410-328-8919
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center have begun to offer a new, non-surgical treatment approach for people with lung cancer, called photodynamic therapy. The new treatment involves an FDA-approved drug, Photofrin, that is absorbed by tumors in high concentrations. When that drug is exposed to light from a cold laser, it destroys tumors without harming surrounding tissue.
"Photodynamic therapy can offer a cure for lung cancer patients whose tumors are still small and confined to the airway," says Joshua Sonett, M.D., a lung and heart surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"The treatment also can give significant palliative relief to patients with advanced cancer who have difficulty breathing because of tumors that are blocking the airway," Dr. Sonett says.
On October 14, Dr. Sonett performed the first photodynamic therapy for a lung cancer patient in Maryland. The patient, an elderly, frail man with cancer in both lungs, was in imminent danger of respiratory failure. Following the treatment, which lasted about 10 minutes, the man was able to breathe comfortably.
The University of Maryland Medical Center has been using photodynamic therapy since early 1997, when it became the first medical institution in Maryland to perform the therapy to destroy tumors in the esophagus.
In lung cancer patients, photodynamic therapy offers another option for those who are not candidates for traditional surgery or radiation, due to advanced age, frail health, tumors that are too numerous, or other factors.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. "About half of the patients diagnosed with lung cancer are inoperable," says Dr. Sonett. "This therapy offers those patients a minimally invasive option that has few side effects. It can also be used in conjunction with radiation therapy."
For the treatment, which is performed on an outpatient basis, patients first receive an intravenous infusion of the drug Photofrin. Over the next 48 hours, the drug finds and becomes concentrated within tumors. Then, patients come back two days later and, with mild sedation, they have a bronchoscope placed down the airway. Inserted within the scope is a Yag laser, which produces a red light. The doctor focuses the laser light on the tumor. The light activates the Photofrin to destroy the tumor.
Patients must stay out of the sun for the next four weeks, because the treatment puts them at risk of a severe sunburn. The FDA approved the use of photodynamic therapy for lung cancer earlier this year.
Photodynamic therapy is part of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center's comprehensive range of diagnostic and treatment services for lung cancer patients, which include videoscopic surgery, hot laser and stent therapy, new drug therapies, and the latest types of radiation therapy.
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.