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Photodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a light-sensitive drug that gets drawn towards tumours. The drug only works when activated by red laser light which can be directed to the cancerous area, and treated areas heal remarkably well. Professor Stephen Bown, in the National Medical Laser Centre in University College London, has been studying PDT for more than 20 years, and was funded by Worldwide Cancer Research for 11 of these. With this funding, he tested PDT in many different tissues and organs to ensure it was safe to use in patients.

Professor Bown said, “It was Worldwide Cancer Research’s support that enabled us to do the research that made it safe to use ALA and other PDT drugs for early cancers of the head and neck. PDT is a particularly attractive option for tumours of the mouth as it may reduce the need for surgery and radiotherapy with their associated side effects. There is also a big cosmetic advantage as there is less scarring. This can have a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life if the tumour is on an area as prominent as the lips.”

Barrett’s oesophagus (BO) is a common condition that can sometimes lead to cancer of the oesophagus (food pipe). Another of Professor Bown’s Worldwide Cancer Research grants helped PDT become a licensed BO treatment. The same technique is now used for some very early lung cancers in patients who are not fit for more radical treatment. Without research like this, funded by people like you, we would never get better treatments, and survival rates would never improve.

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