Photodynamic therapy using 5-aminolevulinic acid for premalignant and malignant lesions of the oral cavity

K F Fan, C Hopper, P M Speight, G Buonaccorsi, A J MacRobert, S G Bown
Cancer 1996 October 1, 78 (7): 1374-83

BACKGROUND: Premalignant changes in the mouth, which are often widespread, are frequently excised or vaporized, whereas cancers are treated by excision or radiotherapy, both of which have cumulative morbidity. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is another option that produces local tissue necrosis with light after prior administration of a photosensitizing agent. This heals with remarkably little scarring and no cumulative toxicity. This article describes the use of PDT with the photosensitizing agent 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) for premalignant and malignant lesions of the mouth.

METHODS: Eighteen patients with histologically proven premalignant and malignant lesions of the mouth were sensitized with 60 mg/kg ALA by mouth and treated with laser light at 628 nanometers (100 or 200 Joules/cm2). The results were assessed macroscopically and microscopically. Biopsies were taken immediately prior to PDT for fluorescence studies, a few days after PDT to assess the depth of necrosis, when healing was complete, and up to 88 weeks later.

RESULTS: The depth of necrosis varied from 0.1 to 1.3 mm, but complete epithelial necrosis was present in all cases. All 12 patients with dysplasia showed improvement (repeat biopsy was normal or less dysplastic) and the treated areas healed without scarring. Some benefit was observed in five of six patients with squamous cell carcinoma, but only two became tumor free (one with persistent mild dysplasia). No patient had cutaneous photosensitivity for longer than 2 days.

CONCLUSIONS: PDT using ALA for dysplasia of the mouth produces consistent epithelial necrosis with excellent healing and is a simple and effective way to manage these patients. Results in invasive cancers are less satisfactory, mainly because the PDT effect is too superficial with current treatment regimens using ALA as the photosensitizing agent.

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