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PDT Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratoses are small, sometimes nearly invisible lesions that indicate your skin has sustained sun damage. These growths are referred to as pre-cancerous, as they reflect an increased risk for the development of skin cancer in the future. If you notice an area of skin that feels “scaly” or rough, or if you have a colored non-mole growth, contact us to explore your treatment options.

Photodynamic (PDT) therapy for actinic keratosis

The word “photo” translates to light. “Dynamic” indicates action. Photodynamic therapy puts the two together, using specific wavelengths of light energy to combat disruption in healthy skin cells.

What to expect during photodynamic therapy

To begin treatment, we cleanse the skin to create an oil-free surface. Topical medication (Levulan) is applied, and is given 60-120 minutes to be absorbed into the skin surface. This medication causes greater sensitivity to the light. Patients recline slightly while blue light is directed towards the treatment area. Most patients experience a slight stinging sensation during the procedure but it is usually well tolerated.

After your treatment

Photodynamic therapy may cause minimal swelling and redness for a few days. The skin may also feel somewhat tingly for a short time. During the first week following treatment, sun damaged areas may appear red and scaly. It is crucial to avoid UV exposure during the first 48 hours after photodynamic therapy. We suggest wearing titanium and zinc oxide sunscreen on a daily basis, even if it is cloudy. A hat may also be worn outside to ensure direct exposure to sunlight is reduced as much as possible.

To achieve the desired result, we may recommend a few PDT sessions. Research suggests that one to two treatments lead to improvement in 90 percent of patients. Additionally, this improvement can last several years when complimented by regular sunscreen use and healthy skin care habits.

Photodynamic therapy can clear the skin of visible actinic keratoses, as well as those that cannot yet be seen. To schedule your consultation for skin cancer education and treatment, contact us today.

The Benefits of Photodynamic Therapy for Actinic Keratosis

PDT is a quick outpatient procedure that’s less invasive and less costly than other treatments, such as surgery. Photodynamic therapy can protect your skin health by treating pre-cancerous growths efficiently. Topical medications often take a long time to address actinic keratosis, and PDT only takes a few hours. This procedure can provide cosmetic benefits by improving skin texture, sunspots, and pigmentation concerns. Photodynamic therapy can be repeated as necessary.

Photodynamic Therapy Risks and Side Effects

PDT is a safe procedure that causes redness and possible peeling during recovery. Some patients may experience blisters or scabs, and the blue light may irritate the eyes. Our dermatologists provide protective goggles for patients to wear during the treatment. When administered by a trained medical professional, photodynamic therapy has no known long-term side effects. The treated area and surrounding skin tissue may swell, and some people report an itching, stinging, or burning sensation after PDT.


How long does PDT take?

PDT treatment may take one to two hours at our office. First, Levulan is applied and given one to two hours to penetrate the skin. The treated area is exposed to blue light for approximately 17 minutes to treat actinic keratosis while leaving surrounding skin tissue normal and healthy. A typical PDT cycle requires two blue light treatments spaced four to eight weeks apart.

Depending on the treated area, the healing process may take two to six weeks. Most patients resume their regular routine right after photodynamic therapy. However, you must stay indoors and avoid UV light for 48 hours.

How does blue light treatment with photodynamic therapy work?

Levulan is a photosynthesizing medication that is absorbed by damaged cells. Blue light causes a chemical reaction that destroys these cells, and the body replaces them with new healthy cells. Levulan remains active for 48 hours, making any exposure to UV light (like a window) lead to inflammation and irritation. That’s why staying indoors and avoiding sunlight and other types of UV exposure is crucial.

Does insurance cover PDT?

Most insurance policies cover photodynamic therapy to treat actinic keratosis. Our doctors at Coastal Skin & Eye Institute can give you the information for you to check coverage on your insurance plan.

How do I know if I have actinic keratosis?

These small pre-cancerous growths are not painful or disfiguring. Actinic keratoses are dry, scaly, or rough skin patches. They may be flat or slightly raised bumps on top of the skin and develop a hard or wart-like texture as they progress. The growths are brown, red, or pink and may burn or itch when touched or brushed against something.

Why do actinic keratoses require treatment?

Actinic keratosis must be treated because the growth may progress into skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma. The pre-cancerous spots may eventually develop into skin cancer in about 5% to 10% of cases. It’s best to treat actinic keratoses as they form to avoid skin cancer. A board-certified dermatologist, such as our providers at Coastal Skin & Eye Institute, can diagnose and treat actinic keratosis.

What causes actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratosis is the skin’s response to intensive and ongoing UV radiation exposure from sunlight or tanning beds. You can prevent these growths by following proper sun protection measures, including sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, wide-brimmed hats, and covering your skin outdoors.

Who is at risk of actinic keratosis?

Adults over 40 living in sunny locations have a higher risk of developing actinic keratoses. If you have red or blonde hair and light-colored eyes and tend to burn or freckle after sun exposure, you are more likely to have these pre-cancerous growths. A history of sunburns, actinic keratoses, or skin cancer elevates your risk. Other risk factors include immunocompromised individuals, chemotherapy, or other conditions.

Coastal Skin & Eye Institute/Grossmont Dermatology