Frequently Asked Questions About Photofrin® (porfimer sodium)
Generic Name: Porfimer (PORE-fi-mer), porfimer sodium
Trade Name: Photofrin®
How is Photofrin used? Photofrin is FDA approved for the treatment of patients with esophageal cancer or non-small cell lung cancer that is obstructing the esophagus, and for high-grade dysplasia (abnormal or pre-cancerous cells) in patients with Barrett’s esophagus. It is important for patients to remember that physicians have the ability to prescribe medication for conditions other than those for which the drug has been approved by the FDA. Patients who have received a prescription of this drug for a condition other than which it is approved may wish to discuss this issue with their physician.
What is the mechanism of action? Photofrin belongs to a class of drugs called photosensitizing agents. Photofrin produces its anti-cancer effects by making cancer cells more sensitive to treatment with a specific wavelength of light. Photofrin is administered to a patient prior to the administration of laser light treatment. Photofrin tends to stay in cancer cells, not healthy tissues. A specific wavelength of light is then placed on the area of cancer. The reaction between Photofrin and the laser light creates molecules that cause cellular damage and ultimately leads to cell death.
How is Photofrin given (administered)? Photofrin is administered into a vein (intravenous) and the dose depends on several factors, including the condition being treated, the size of the patient, the particular treatment regimen being used, and the overall health of the patient.
How are patients monitored? Patients will usually have scheduled meetings with their healthcare provider while they are being treated with Photofrin. ??(Typically, blood will be drawn to monitor functions of some organ systems, such as the kidneys or liver.) Patients may also undergo physical examinations, scans or other measures to assess side effects and response to therapy.
Patients are monitored for photosensitivity reactions, such as reddening or blistering of the skin. It is important for patients to shield themselves against light – either sunlight or indoor light.
What are the common (occur in 30% or more of patients) side effects of treatment with Photofrin?
• Sensitivity to sunlight or bright indoor light. May have burning and skin or eye damage. Photosensitivity may last for 4 to 6 weeks and occasionally longer.
What are the less common (occur in 10% to 29% of patients) side effects of treatment with Photofrin?
• Mild constipation
• Chest pain
• Change in heart rhythm
• Difficulty swallowing
• Nausea and vomiting
• Difficulty breathing
• Adbdominal pain
This is not a complete list of side effects. Some patients may experience other side effects that are not listed here. Patients may wish to discuss with their physician the other less common side effects of this drug, some of which may be serious.
Some side effects may require medical attention. Other side effects do not require medical attention and may go away during treatment. Patients should check with their physician about any side effects that continue or are bothersome.
What can patients do to help alleviate or prevent discomfort and side effects?
• Pay careful attention to the physician’s instructions and inform the physician of any side effects.
• Maintain adequate rest and nutrition.
• Wear sunscreen and protective clothing and try to minimize sun exposure.
• Drink plenty of fluids. (Patients should ask their physician about the amount of liquid to consume during a day.)
Are there any special precautions patients should be aware of before starting treatment?
• Patients should inform their physician if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a family in the near future. This drug may cause birth defects. It is important to use some kind of birth control while undergoing treatment. Also, patients may want to talk to their physician if they are considering having children in the future, since some drugs may cause fertility problems.
• It is important that patients inform their physician of any pre-existing conditions (chicken pox, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, etc.) as they may worsen with this drug.
• Patients should inform their physician of any other medication they are taking (whether prescription or over-the-counter, including vitamins, herbs, etc.) as they may interfere with treatment.
• Patients should check with their physician before starting any new drug or nutritional supplement.
• Patients should inform their physician of any known drug or food allergies or any reactions to medications they have experienced in the past.
• Patients need to cover and protect skin from light, both bright indoor light and outdoor, following administration of Photofrin.
• Patients should wear sunglasses when outdoors.
When should patients notify their physician?
• Inability to swallow
• Persistent fever
• Difficulty breathing
• Rapid heart rate, chest pain or palpitations
• Swelling of extremities
• Increased anxiety or confusion
• Severe sunburn, pain or blistering
• Uncontrolled nausea and vomiting
• Painful urination
• Symptoms of an allergic reaction: hives, swelling of the lips and throat
What is a package insert?
A package insert is required by the FDA and contains a summary of the essential scientific information needed for the safe and effective use of the drug for healthcare providers and consumers. A package insert typically includes information regarding specific indications, administration schedules, dosing, side effects, contraindications, results from some clinical trials, chemical structure, pharmacokinetics and metabolism of the specific drug. By carefully reviewing the package insert, you will get the most complete and current information about how to safely use this drug. If you do not have the package insert for the drug you are using, your pharmacist or physician may be able to provide you with a copy.
Important Limitations of Use
The information provided above on the drug you have selected is provided for your information only and is not a substitute for consultation with an appropriate medical doctor. We are providing this information solely as a courtesy and, as such, it is in no way a recommendation as to the safety, efficacy or appropriateness of any particular drug, regimen, dosing schedule for any particular cancer, condition or patient nor is it in any way to be considered medical advice. Patients should discuss the appropriateness of a particular drug or chemotherapy regimen with their physician.
As with any printed reference, the use of particular drugs, regimens and drug dosages may become out-of-date over time, since new information may have been published and become generally accepted after the latest update to this printed information. Please keep in mind that health care professionals are fully responsible for practicing within current standards, avoiding use of outdated regimens, employing good clinical judgment in selecting drugs and/or regimens, in calculating doses for individual patients, and verifying all dosage calculations.
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The prescribing physician is solely responsible for making all decisions relating to appropriate patient care including, but not limited to, drugs, regimens, dose, schedule, and any supportive care.