Light therapy given during surgery extends survival time in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Life expectancy in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is often measured only in months, for the disease is very hard to treat, especially when it has spread to the chest wall. In a new approach, doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, have tried photodynamic therapy (PDT) alongside surgery in patients with this form of cancer.
In PDT, a drug - in this case, photofrin - is injected and is taken up preferentially by cancer cells. It is then activated by exposing the tissue to a light beam. This causes production of a form of oxygen that kills cancer cells.
In this trial, the drug was given prior to surgery and the light applied during the operation. More than half of the patients treated in this way survived for four times longer, on average, than those getting surgery without PDT. They were surviving for more than 20 months - a remarkable improvement on previous survival times in NSCLC. More research is now needed to see just why PDT is proving so effective in this form of lung cancer.