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Photodynamic therapy for cancer of the pancreas
  1. S G Bown1,
  2. A Z Rogowska2,
  3. D E Whitelaw3,
  4. W R Lees4,
  5. L B Lovat1,
  6. P Ripley3,
  7. L Jones3,
  8. P Wyld5,
  9. A Gillams4,
  10. A W R Hatfield6
  1. 1National Medical Laser Centre, Department of Surgery, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK and Department of Gastroenterology, Middlesex Hospital, London, UK
  2. 2National Medical Laser Centre, Department of Surgery, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK and Medical Centre for Postgraduate Education, Department of Gastroenterology, Oncology Centre, Warsaw, Poland
  3. 3National Medical Laser Centre, Department of Surgery, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK
  4. 4Department of Imaging, Middlesex Hospital, London UK
  5. 5Scotia Pharmaceuticals, Stirling, UK
  6. 6Department of Gastroenterology, Middlesex Hospital, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Professor S G Bown, National Medical Laser Centre, Department of Surgery, Charles Bell House, 67-73 Riding House St, London W1W 7EJ, UK;


Background: Few pancreatic cancers are suitable for surgery and few respond to chemoradiation. Photodynamic therapy produces local necrosis of tissue with light after prior administration of a photosensitising agent, and in experimental studies can be tolerated by the pancreas and surrounding normal tissue.

Aims: To undertake a phase I study of photodynamic therapy for cancer of the pancreas.

Patients: Sixteen patients with inoperable adenocarcinomas (2.5–6 cm in diameter) localised to the region of the head of the pancreas were studied. All presented with obstructive jaundice which was relieved by biliary stenting prior to further treatment.

Methods: Patients were photosensitised with 0.15 mg/kg meso-tetrahydroxyphenyl chlorin intravenously. Three days later, light was delivered to the cancer percutaneously using fibres positioned under computerised tomographic guidance. Three had subsequent chemotherapy.

Results: All patients had substantial tumour necrosis on scans after treatment. Fourteen of 16 left hospital within 10 days. Eleven had a Karnofsky performance status of 100 prior to treatment. In 10 it returned to 100 at one month. Two patients with tumour involving the gastroduodenal artery had significant gastrointestinal bleeds (controlled without surgery). Three patients developed duodenal obstruction during follow up that may have been related to treatment. There was no treatment related mortality. The median survival time after photodynamic therapy was 9.5 months (range 4–30). Seven of 16 patients (44%) were alive one year after photodynamic therapy.

Conclusions: Photodynamic therapy can produce necrosis in pancreatic cancers with an acceptable morbidity although care is required for tumours invading the duodenal wall or involving the gastroduodenal artery. Further studies are indicated to assess its influence on the course of the disease, alone or in combination with chemoradiation.

  • photodynamic therapy
  • pancreatic cancer
  • ALA, 5-amino laevulinic acid
  • AlSPc, aluminium sulphonated phthalocyanine
  • AlS2Pc, aluminium disulphonated phthalocyanine
  • CT, computerised tomography
  • ERCP, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
  • mTHPC, meso-tetrahydroxyphenyl chlorin
  • PDT, photodynamic therapy

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