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Photodynamic therapy (PDT) for skin cancer

The Netherlands Cancer Center is the specialized center for Photodynamic therapy (PDT) for skin cancer in the Netherlands. Because this treatment option does not require incisions in the skin, the results are often cosmetically good. But even more important - most patients will have their entire tumor removed. 

PDT can be used as a treatment for:

  • Precursors for squamous cell carcinoma (actinic keratosis; UV lighting damage on the skin)
  • Early stage squamous cell carcinoma (squamous cell carcinoma in situ, also known as Bowen’s disease)
  • Superficial basal cell carcinoma

More information

What is photodynamic therapy (PDT)?

Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, works by making skin cells extra sensitive to light by applying a cream with a light-sensitive substance (photosensitizer) to any suspicious abnormalities on the skin. We will then deliver light to these areas using a special light source, which will cause a chemical reaction that destroys tumor cells. You may experience redness or swelling after your treatment, and the area may look like a burn. This will only last a few weeks, after which the skin will be fully healed. Depending on your circumstances, you may need one or two treatment sessions taking 4 hours each.

PDT - what to expect?

All areas requiring treatment will be marked. A nurse will remove all dead skin or scabs in order to allow for optimal absorption of the cream. This preparation may be uncomfortable, or even painful. If this is the case for you, we can administer a local anesthetic. The cream will remain on your skin for 3 hours, after which it is removed and the skin is cleaned. 


Your skin is now ready to receive the light. The light is shone for approximately 8 minutes per field (a surface of approximately 10 x 20 cm), which means that it will take longer depending on the amounts of fields that need to receive the light dose. Treatment can take between 4 to 5 hours on average, from beginning to end. The light can feel uncomfortable or painful.


If you have a superficial basal cell carcinoma or early stage squamous cell carcinoma, you will need to repeat the treatment after a week. 

After treatment

We will administer an antibacterial ointment after the treatment. Please make sure to protect the area from sunlight for 6 weeks following the treatment by using sunscreen with SPF 50+.


You may experience several side effects such as redness of skin, swelling, scab formation, flaking, itching, or heat on the areas that received the treatment. Some people experience blistering or infection, impaired wound healing due to moisture, or permanent light or dark spotting in the areas receiving the treatment.


It will take your skin 2 to 6 weeks to recover. You may have red skin during the first months following the treatment, although the redness will fade over time. Most people do not experience scarring.