Photodynamic red light therapy, a treatment for cancer, offers three primary benefits: short recovery time, few side effects, and the ability to annihilate malignant cells without harming normal body cells. Red laser light can also treat precancerous cells, as well as severely diseased cancer tissue that has progressed to the late stages of malignancy. This treatment is often used for throat cancer and cancer of the esophagus, and the treatment is minimally invasive, often making it preferable to radiation and chemotherapy. Singers and other professionals who rely on their voice especially appreciate that the therapy is unlikely to damage the quality of their voices.
The recovery time after red light therapy is less than a day. The operation lasts roughly three hours, is non-invasive, and allows the patient to leave the hospital immediately afterward. While radiation and chemotherapy may require repeated treatment over several months, leaving the patient weak and with a compromised immune system, this therapy only has one negative side effect, which lasts for less than 24 hours. Patients treated with red light become hypersensitive to the sun and burn easily. Wearing sunscreen will not prevent the burning, and most patients are advised to avoid direct sunlight for a day.
The benefits of red light therapy are a result of the laser light interacting with an injected drug, porfimer sodium, a liquid solution that responds to light and causes a chemical reaction that releases toxins to kill cancer tissue. The drug, which collects in cancerous tissue and turns it red, is injected into the patient’s body two to three days before treatment. The cancer cells are killed the moment the red light strikes the pigmented cells, igniting the release of a type of oxygen that is poisonous to the treated cancer cells only. The gentleness of the treatment means that a repeated surgery, if necessary for large tumors, can occur within two weeks.
Patients are sedated during this procedure. In addition to the laser, surgeons might use additional tools, such as scopes, so that they look into the body and confirm the location of cancer cells where the laser must be guided. One drawback of this therapy is that it may only be able to treat tumors that have a diameter no larger than 0.25 inch (0.64 cm). Red light cannot penetrate to great depths to treat larger tumors, so it can only treat superficial tumors and tumors that can be accessed with scopes.