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Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an effective treatment for local head and neck tumors alongside surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. The Netherlands Cancer Institute is the leading institute for PDT expertise in the country as well as in Europe. 

Light-sensitive substance

PDT works because of an interaction between a light-sensitive substance (photosensitizer), oxygen, and light-emitting lasers. We will administer a substance called foscan intravenously. The substance mainly attaches itself to the tumor cells, although it can make your entire body sensitive to light. Four days later, we will deliver a laser beam of light to the tumor, which will cause a chemical reaction that destroys tumor cells. 

Pros of PDT

There are many benefits to PDT: treatment is short and will only take one session. The treatment can be delivered with great precision which will prevent damage or loss of function in the area. Treatment can also be delivered in combination with previous surgery or radiotherapy or even prior PDT treatment.

More information

PDT - what to expect?

You will receive an injection with the light-sensitive substance Foscan at home. 

Four days later, we will apply the red laser light. The exact properties of this light is determined beforehand, and the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor is protected at all times. The laser will light the tumor for a total of 200 seconds and the procedure can be done under general or local anesthetics, depending on the location of your tumor. Depending on the treatment, you will be admitted for one or more days.

Preparative care

You will receive guidance before the start of your treatment.

You will receive information to protect you from light, darken your home, and pain medication.
We will also supply a light meter and roster which can help you measure the intensity of the light.

Side-effects and complications

You may experience soreness for 6 to 8 months following your treatment, as this is the moment when your tumor tissue is destroyed. The area may be swollen, which may cause difficulties swallowing. You will receive standard pain medication and medication to help with the swelling. 

The administered substance will make your entire body more sensitive to daylight and artificial lighting. Exposure to light may cause burns on the skin similar to sunburns, ranging from redness to blisters. Two weeks of planned exposure to light can train your skin to shed its sensitivity and build resistance. You will need to cover your entire body when leaving the house, including the face. You may start reintroducing light after 2 weeks following the treatment. 

After your treatment

We will guide you through the time following your treatment.

We will schedule phone consultations twice a week over a time period of four weeks to ensure that you do not experience too much pain, sudden swellings, or other issues. If needed, we can adjust your pain medication. You are always welcome to contact your nurse or practicing physician if necessary.


We conduct ongoing research into PDT, which has led to the ability to treat tumors that lie deeper in the head and neck area with intersital PDT.