If you’ve been looking for a cancer treatment that doesn’t involve the use of chemotherapy or radiation, you’re not alone. While chemotherapy and radiation have been staples of cancer treatment for quite some time, they can cause a range of unpleasant side effects. As a result, researchers have been searching for new therapies that are less toxic and potentially more effective.
Among the growing options for alternative cancer treatments involves the use of light and sound to destroy tumors and cancer cells.
You might be thinking: that sounds a bit strange. Does that actually work? Keep reading to learn about this surprisingly effective, scientifically-valid approach to treating cancer.
What is photodynamic therapy?
As its name suggests, photodynamic therapy uses light (hence the use of the prefix “photo”) to act on tumors and destroy cancer cells. So how does that work?
Well, it’s not just light, though light is used to create a chemical reaction that in turn targets cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy involves the use of specific drugs (called photosensitizing agents) along with light (usually laser light). By working together, these drugs, once absorbed into the body, and laser light create a reaction that produces an oxygen molecule capable of destroying cancer cells.
Specifically, the interaction of light and the sensitizing agents creates toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS molecules are unstable and cause chemical reactions with various other molecules in a cell. When it comes to cancer, these reactions are designed to damage cancer cells. Research from clinical trials of photodynamic therapy have shown it can produce favorable results for the treatment of cancer.
During photodynamic therapy, photosensitizing agents are administered into the bloodstream (depending on the cancer, these drugs could also be applied to the skin). After the drug is administered, you will need to wait a little while for the drug to be absorbed by cancer cells. A trained clinician will then apply light to targeted areas of your body where your cancer is located. You may need to receive multiple treatments with photodynamic therapy.
Following photodynamic therapy, you may have to wear extra clothing and avoid exposure to light because of the photosensitizing drugs. These drugs can make you more susceptible to damage from light.
What are the benefits and limitations of photodynamic therapy?
Photodynamic therapy offers several benefits as well as limitations (like any cancer therapy).
Among the benefits of photodynamic therapy include its relative effectiveness compared to other treatment options and its minimally-invasive approach. Photodynamic therapy has been shown to be relatively effective compared to standard chemotherapy approaches. It’s also far less invasive than treatments like surgery, and is often done as an outpatient procedure, which means you don’t have to stay overnight at a hospital.
Furthermore, research has also shown that when used in combination with other therapies, photodynamic therapy could prove especially effective while reducing the amount of toxic chemotherapy being administered.
As far as limitations, photodynamic therapy is most effective for treating tumors that are on or near the skin—photodynamic therapy only works when the light can reach a certain area. Light can’t reach tumors far beneath the surface, which means that certain kinds of cancers may not be treatable with photodynamic therapy. It also can’t be used to treat metastatic cancers (or cancers that have spread throughout the body).
Then again, research suggests it could also be an effective way of treating pre-cancerous lesions on the skin caused by sun damage.
What is sonodynamic therapy?
Sonodynamic therapy works in pretty much the same way as photodynamic therapy; you receive special drugs to treat your cancer, but the drugs must be “activated” to create ROS before they can have any effect on cancer. But instead of light, sonodynamic therapy uses sound to activate these drugs. A simple ultrasound can be used to do this, and, like photodynamic therapy, sonodynamic therapy is also an outpatient procedure.
What are the benefits and limitations of sonodynamic therapy?
Research suggests that sonodynamic may have more applications and increase the potential of treatment efficacy compared to photodynamic therapy. That’s because sonodynamic therapy has shown the ability to target areas of the body further down than photodynamic therapy. As a result, it may have the potential to target a wider range of cancer types.
You also don’t have to worry about light sensitivity following sonodynamic therapy, making it even less invasive.
Some research suggests that sonodynamic therapy may have some accuracy issues that need improvement.
Is sonodynamic or photodynamic therapy right for me?
Choosing any cancer treatment can be tricky, and should be a conversation you have with your doctor.
But to sum up, sonodynamic and photodynamic therapy both offer a less invasive form of cancer treatment that has the potential to target very specific areas of the body. However, photodynamic therapy may be more effective for surface or precancer types of treatments, whereas sonodynamic therapy may be a better option if your cancer is further below the surface.