Photodynamic Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer

This treatment uses light to destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue

One of the challenges of treating head and neck cancers is to eliminate cancerous tissue while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. That’s why our patients have the option of photodynamic therapy as part of their cancer treatment plans. Photodynamic therapy is safe and effective for several types of head and neck cancers.

What is photodynamic therapy, and how does it work?

Photodynamic therapy uses a powerful laser and a nontoxic, light-activated drug called a photosensitizer to treat certain types of cancer. Photodynamic therapy destroys cancer cells without hurting surrounding healthy tissue.

To start photodynamic therapy for head or neck cancer, we’ll first inject you with a photosensitizer. This drug targets cancer cells. Several days later, we’ll expose the cancerous tissue to a laser. The laser activates the drug, which causes a reaction in the cancer cells and destroys them.

What are the benefits of photodynamic therapy at Henry Ford?

Our doctors have performed more photodynamic therapy procedures than any other hospital in Michigan. The benefits of photodynamic therapy for early head and neck cancers, especially laryngeal (voice box) and oral cavity cancers, include:

  • Ability to repeat the procedure several times if needed without harm
  • Can be performed on an outpatient basis
  • Can be used when radiation therapy fails
  • Causes fewer cosmetic deformities than surgery
  • Does not affect production of saliva
  • May eliminate the need for surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, such as transoral robotic surgery
  • Voice box and voice preservation

Our doctors are involved in clinical trials to treat head and neck cancer with a photosensitizer called Photofrin. Researchers are investigating Photofrin for use in the treatment of laryngeal papillomatosis, superficial head and neck cancer of the larynx and oral cavity, and advanced-stage head and neck cancer.

Talk with our Cancer Nurse 24/7

Call us at (888) 777-4167

Clinical Trials

Cancer Institute