Lung Cancer PDT: Old Treatment New Results


BUFFALO, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire) –Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. Treating it has been a huge challenge. But now, a treatment that’s been around for decades is being used in a new way, and the results so far have been encouraging.

George Grace is an accomplished artist. In March 2016, he was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer but wasn’t away from his studio for long thanks to an old therapy being used in a new way.

Grace told Ivanhoe, “I had the cancer therapy. The next month I was back, right back to what I was doing.”

Grace is part of a clinical trial testing a treatment first used in the70s. It’s called photo-dynamic therapy. Researchers are now seeing if it will help fight the most common form of lung cancer, called non-small cell lung cancer.

“I’m alive today two years later and so far, cancer free,” detailed Grace.

The treatment uses a special chemical that responds to a combination of laser light and oxygen.

“Immediately after the surgery is done, we then do this PDT, photodynamic therapy in the area so if there are any tiny cells you cannot see with the naked eye, this PDT can eliminate those cells, kills those cells,” explained Chumy Nwogu, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York.

Dr. Nwogu is leading the trial and he said PDT could be especially helpful for patients diagnosed at stage two or three.

“There’s a really high risk in those patients of having microscopic disease left behind so those are the patients that will really benefit from this,” detailed Dr. Nwogu.

Dr. Nwogu is cautiously optimistic. Grace doesn’t mince words about his feelings.

“This clinical trial saved my life,” said Grace.

PDT is a complementary therapy used with surgery alone or in combination with chemotherapy and radiation. For more information on the clinical trial, visit

Contributors to this news report include: Kris O’Donnell, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Tom Vetter, Videographer.

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BACKGROUND: Lung cancer (both small cell and non-small cell) is the second most common cancer in both men and women. In men, prostate cancer is more common, while in women breast cancer is more common. About 14 percent of all new cancers are lung cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates about 234,030 new cases of lung cancer in the United States for 2018 and about 154,050 deaths from lung cancer. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older, while a very small number of people are diagnosed younger than 45. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 70. Statistics on survival in people with lung cancer vary depending on the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed. Despite the very serious prognosis of lung cancer, some people with earlier stage cancers are cured. More than 430,000 people alive today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point.


LUNG CANCER AND PDT:  Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a procedure in which a special chemical is injected into the blood stream. The chemical is absorbed by all the cells but does not stay in normal cells long. It remains in cancer cells quite a while and a laser aimed at the cancer activates the chemical to kill the cancer cells. PDT is approved for relief of symptoms (such as breathing problems or bleeding) in non-small cell lung cancer and can also treat small tumors. Photosensitizers tend to build up in tumors and the activating light is focused on the tumor. As a result, damage to healthy tissue is minimal. However, PDT can cause burns, swelling, pain, and scarring in nearby healthy tissue. Other side effects of PDT are related to the area that is treated. They can include coughing, trouble swallowing, stomach pain, painful breathing, or shortness of breath; these side effects are usually temporary. Researchers continue to study ways to improve the effectiveness of PDT and expand it to other cancers. Clinical trials are under way to evaluate the use of PDT for cancers of the brain, skin, prostate, cervix, and peritoneal cavity.

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NEW TREATMENT INCREASES SURVIVAL RATE: Drugs designed to trigger a patient’s immune system may help boost survival for those battling lung cancer. The first study found that when the immunotherapy drug, Keytruda (pembrolizumab), was combined with standard chemotherapy, the chance that a patient would die within the next 11 months plummeted by more than 50 percent, compared with being treated with chemo alone. The combination treatment also drove down the risk that the cancer would spread by nearly as much, according to the research team from NYU Langone Health in New York City. In a similar vein, another team of researchers gave patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer either a combination of the immunotherapy drugs Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab), or standard chemotherapy. Those on the two immunotherapy drugs were 42 percent less likely to see their disease progress after a year. “Chemotherapy remains the standard of care for the majority of lung cancer patients, and is a very poor standard,” explained Dr Leena Gandhi, director of Langone’s Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at the Perlmutter Cancer Center. In most cases, chemo prolongs life by just a year or even less. But the combination approach “resulted in a marked improvement in response, progression-free survival and overall survival in all patients,” she said.


* For More Information, Contact:

Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center