The mainstays of cancer treatment remain chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. These are the big three treatment modalities and have, largely, remained in place as the core weapons in the arsenal of oncologists despite the advent of a number of newer treatments. However, there is a class of treatments called ablative therapies that really need to become the fourth big weapon in the anti-cancer arsenal. Ablative therapies include photodynamic therapy (PDT), cryoablation, radio-frequency or microwave ablation and the new kid on the block, irreversible electroporation (which I have previously written about here).
Of these treatments, which all take the approach of directly and physically attacking tumours rather indirectly using drugs or radiation, it is PDT which is the most mature and most widely used. PDT works by injecting a light sensitive drug (called a photosensitiser) into a patient and then letting the drug accumulate in tumour cells – normal cells do not take up the drug to the same extent. Once the drug has been absorbed by the tumour light is applied to it – usually by a surgeon operating to gain access to the tumour and then shining a laser or LED directly on to the tumour. The photosensitive drug in the tumour cells reacts to the light and in the process kills the cell. In this way PDT can be used to destroy solid tumours directly.
While PDT is the most mature of the ablative treatments, it’s still not used widely enough in the UK, and even many oncologists remain unaware that it is available and that it’s a viable treatment option for their patients. This is a treatment that works, can be used against a wide variety of tumour types and does not produce the long-term side-effects of radiotherapy or chemotherapy. If ever there was a treatment that needed to become more widely known and available to more patients it’s this one. And, luckily, there are people around who are actively campaigning to raise awareness of PDT amongst the medical profession, amongst patients and the general public.
One such group is PDT Norfolk (take a visit to their site here: http://www.pdtnorfolk.co.uk/). Recently I travelled up from London to meet with the team at PDT Norfolk to discuss some of the science, some strategy and ways that we could work together. It was a good meeting and I think some very positive ideas came out of it. I think this is a campaign that has the potential to advance research in PDT as well as to raise the profile of the treatment, provide resources for patients and help to bring this treatment to a wider range of patients.