Thursday, 5 November 2009
Make laser cancer treatments a mainstream alternative to surgery, demand experts
Cancer experts have called for more NHS patients to be given pioneering laser treatments as an alternative to surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is often called 'bloodless surgery' because it uses drugs and laser light to destroy cancer tumours.
It is approved in the UK for the treatment of a range of cancers, with results as good as or even better than mainstream treatments.
But too few patients are being offered the chance of PDT, say specialists who have teamed up to launch a national awareness campaign and to raise research funding.
Patients having PDT are given injections of a photosensitising drug, or it is applied on the skin, depending on the cancer being treated.
The drug actively seeks out a cancer tumour and makes the cells more sensitive to light.
The drug is actually a dye agent primed to absorb energy from light at a specific wavelength and is harmless until 'switched on' by non-thermal laser light when it becomes a cancer killer.
Cardio-thoracic surgeon and laser pioneer Professor Keyvan Moghissi said PDT could 'revolutionise' cancer treatment if used more widely
It is another option for patients which avoids invasive surgery, and the side effects associated with strong radiation and chemical therapies.
He said 'PDT offers a real 'ray of hope' for a large number of cancer patients and should have equal status as a treatment alongside chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
'Leaders in this field from across the UK decided they needed to form a specialist group to raise the profile of PDT within the NHS and Primary Care Trusts consistently across the UK and to collaborate to attract funding for future research on a coordinated national basis.'
The campaigners have set up the UK PDT Charitable Trust, chaired by Prof Moghissi.
Research is currently under way to develop better dyes and by specific targeting of diseased tissue to achieve the ultimate goal of personalised cancer treatment.
This involves loading antibodies generated from samples of a patient's unique tumour with PDT dyes to treat the patient.
Not all tumours can be treated by the laser treatment as each type of cancer needs specific drugs with specific dyes and not all have been developed yet.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has issued guidance on a number of cancers for which PDT can be used.
In the case of non-melanoma skin tumours, Nice said there were 'no major safety concerns' about the treatment.
Guidance on advanced oesophageal cancer meanwhile states: 'Current evidence on the safety and efficacy of palliative photodynamic therapy for advanced oesophageal cancer is of poor quality but appears adequate to support the use of this procedure to relieve symptoms in patients with a poor prognosis.'
Possible complications identified included skin photosensitivity, Nice said.
But people with brain tumours are not recommended to have the procedure unless in the context of trials because of 'limited' evidence on its safety and efficacy, according to Nice guidance.