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Photodynamic therapy appears to be an effective treatment for chest wall progression in breast cancer patients, according to a recent article published in the journal Cancer.

Breast cancer is a common malignancy among women in the United States. A common area of cancer recurrence following treatment of breast cancer is the chest wall, typically within the skin of the chest. Effective treatment for chest wall lesions is limited, leading research efforts to be focused on novel therapeutic approaches for patients with this type of disease.

Photodynamic therapy is an emerging type of treatment that is still being evaluated and refined in clinical trials and laboratories. Photodynamic therapy works through the use of a photosensitizing agent and light. The photosensitizing agent is typically comprised of a porphyrin, which is a naturally occurring substance in the body involved in a variety of biological processes. The photosensitizing agent is injected into a patient’s vein a couple of hours prior to surgery. During this time, the agent selectively collects in rapidly growing cells such as cancer cells. During surgery, the physician applies a certain wavelength of light through a hand held wand directly to the site of the cancer and surrounding tissues. The energy from the light activates the photosensitizing agent, causing the production of a toxin that accumulates in the cancer cells and ultimately destroys them.

Researchers from New York recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate the effects of low-dose photodynamic therapy in women with chest wall progression of breast cancer. All of the patients had failed previous treatment consisting of chemotherapy, radiation and/or hormonal therapy for chest wall progression. Six months following photodynamic therapy, 89% of the treated lesions had been completely eliminated, 8% showed a 50% reduction with no regrowth and only 3% of lesions showed no response. Only one lesion (out of 102) grew despite treatment. All treated lesions healed without medical or surgical intervention with no scarring or fibrosis.

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These results clearly demonstrate a potential for the use of photodynamic therapy in the treatment of chest wall lesions for patients with breast cancer. Future clinical trials are warranted involving this therapy for patients with this disease. Patients with chest wall progression following the treatment for breast cancer may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating photodynamic therapy or other novel therapeutic options.