Light therapy, or photodynamic therapy, is a procedure that uses a special topically applied drug (photosensitiser) and a specific wavelength of light that determines how deep into the skin the interaction between the drug and the light extends.

At the Niine Dermatology Clinic, we use aminolevulinic acid (ALA) as a photosensitising agent and an Omnilux PDT light therapy device (so-called red LED light). In photodynamic therapy, aminolevulinic acid is directed by light into the tumour cells and activated, resulting in the destruction of the tumour cells.

Photodynamic therapy is used to treat non-melanoma skin cancer. This includes:

  • actinic keratosis: a scaly patch on sun-exposed skin that can develop into skin cancer (precancerous lesions);
  • Bowen’s disease: a red scaly or crusted plaque that represents an in situ squamous cell carcinoma (tumour cells are only located in the superficial layer of the skin);
  • superficial basal cell carcinoma (less than 2 mm deep): a slow-growing malignant skin tumour originating in the top layer of the skin.

The main advantages of photodynamic treatment are the non-invasiveness of the procedure, the good effect and the very good cosmetic result. It can also treat several diseases at once. It is precisely because of its effect and cosmetic result that phototherapy is the treatment of choice for actinic keratosis and superficial basal cell carcinoma.

The phototherapy procedure consists of three steps – preparation of the diseased area by removing the superficial crust, covering the area with a photosensitiser (aminolevulinic acid) and photodynamic therapy, the duration of which is determined by the doctor according to the specific disease and its extent.

Burning and soreness may occur in the affected area during light therapy. It is recommended to take a painkiller beforehand (about 30 min) to reduce this. Immediately after the procedure, redness, itching and swelling may occur in the treated area, and rarely blisters or inflammation. This is an expected reaction! Over the next few days, healing will begin – the redness and swelling will subside, scaling may occur or a crust may form. The treated area may be washed or cleaned at least 24 hours after the procedure. The area should be protected from sunlight for at least 48 h after the procedure (SPF≥30). Any scaling or peeling of the treated area should not be rubbed or removed; the skin should be kept clean and dry until it heals on its own within 2-6 weeks.

The procedures are performed by dermato-oncologist Dr Marianne Niin, dermato-venereologists Dr Kai Saluvere, Dr Kreete Põder and Dr Ulvi Loite.