Over the years there has been discussion about using Photo Dynamic Therapy to destroy internal tumors, including prostate cancer tumors. Until now it has only been a hope since there is no way to monitor the amount of light that is actually administered to an internal tumor. We currently use laser light in combination with certain drugs (Photo Dynamic Therapy) to destroy cancer tumors in certain skin cancers, but have not yet been successful in using this type of treatment to go after internal tumors. However, scientists at the University of Lund in Sweden have developed software that might solve this problem as well as proposing a clinical trial to evaluate the therapy to treat recurrent prostate cancer.

“I think we are about to see a real breakthrough, both for us and for other research groups around the world who conduct research on cancer treatment using laser light”, says Johannes Swartling, Doctor of Atomic Physics at Lund University and Chief Technical Officer at SpectraCure, the company that is working with Lund University.

The software’s uses optical fibers not only for emitting the laser light, but also intermittently gathering information about the tumor, which is sent back to the laser instrument. “In this way, the software can continually calculate the optimal light dose and adjust it if necessary. The entire tumor must be removed, while damage to adjacent organs must be avoided,” said Swartling.

According to the researchers, the software could also be used with other light therapies that use LEDs or infra-red lasers.

They have already performed tests on prostate cancer patients in Sweden that have shown that this method works. The researcher are hopeful that in the spring a clinical study on recurrent prostate cancer will begin in the US and Canada. They have already submitted an application for approval to carry out the study. Meanwhile, the same laser light technology is being tested in the UK on pancreatic cancer.

“The advantage of laser light is that it appears that side effects can be minimized. With current treatment methods, prostate cancer patients who are cured risk both impotence and incontinence.” In addition, traditional treatments entail a risk of cancer recurrence, says Johannes Swartling.

The proposed international trials focus on adjusting dosage, guaranteeing safety and ensuring the effectiveness of treatment. If everything goes smoothly, SpectraCure hopes the method will be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada within a few years.

How Photo Dynamic Therapy Works

Before the procedure, the patient is given a light-activated drug. Without exposure to the laser light the drug will have no effect. The drug spreads throughout the body, including to the area of the tumors. The patient then receives a local or general anesthetic and the doctor inserts needles with optical fibers into the areas that have tumors. The fiber optics funnels light into the cancer tumors. When the light comes into contact with the light-activated drug, it reacts with the surrounding oxygen, causing the cells in the target area to die.

Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.