Treating Skin Cancer with Light

Skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), are collectively the most common of all human cancers (with more than 3 million cases per year in the U.S., far more than breast and colon cancer combined). Unlike melanoma, BCC and SCC are rarely deadly. However, the process of removing them often leaves scars that can be very disfiguring.  We are working on a new technique, Photodynamic Therapy (PDT), which can treat skin cancers without leaving a scar. PDT combines two elements, a drug (called a photosensitizer, PS) and visible light. First, the PS is applied to the skin tumor (BCC shown, left panel) and after allowing some time for the PS to penetrate, we shine a strong blue light on the tumor. The PS undergoes light/chemical reactions, so that it gives off a red glow (right panel) and special molecules that destroy the cancer cells. After several treatments, skin tumors can “melt away” without leaving any trace.

Summary: The Maytin lab is developing new approaches that promise to make PDT more effective for treating skin cancers.  Once these approaches are translated to the clinic, the benefit for patients will be a new, nonsurgical treatment for skin cancer that leaves no scar.

See also: Maytin Lab