A new laser treatment, offered at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, allows patients with cancerous tumors in their esophagus or lungs who could not breath or swallow to regain these functions almost immediately after recovering from a brief surgery.
Dr. William Warren, a cardiovascular-thoracic surgeon at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, is one of the first surgeons in Illinois to use the innovative laser technique called photodynamic therapy (PDT). PDT works in a three-step process that takes several days, he explained.
First, patients with cancerous tumors in their esophagus or windpipe receive an injection in the arm with a dye called Photofrin, a photosensitizing drug. Over the next two days, the drug will largely be eliminated from most healthy tissue, but will selectively remain in cancer cells.
Next, physicians place a flexible scope into the patient's throat. Through the scope is passed a laser fiber. Once the laser is in position, the energy from the laser targets the light-sensitized tumor.
"Previously, lasers were very technique sensitive," Warren said. "Surgeons would have to be very precise when burning tumors to avoid damage to surrounding normal tissue."
However, surgeons can place the new laser adjacent to the tumor, where it activates the Photofrin retained by the tumor cells, effectively relieving the obstruction. The laser does not affect surrounding tissue, Warren said. Finally, the scope is placed to remove the dead cancerous tissue. After this 20-minute procedure, the tumor scabs over and function is restored. The entire process takes about five days and is generally accomplished on an outpatient basis.
According to the experience from the use of PDT at other institutions, the only side effect is temporary extreme photosensitivity, which means patients must avoid direct sunlight for between 30 and 60 days after the surgery.