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Light Therapy for Early Stage Laryngeal Cancer

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Doctors from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI, say that light therapy, known as photodynamic therapy (PDT), can help preserve the voice and vocal cord function of patients with laryngeal cancer.

"Photodynamic therapy is an effective treatment for early laryngeal squamous cell carcinomas, offering patients a less invasive option with fewer side effects than other therapies, while preserving the voice," study co-author Vanessa G. Schweitzer, FACS, M.D., and senior staff physician in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford said.

Light therapy works by destroying cancer cells without actually destroying the surrounding healthy cells, by use of a powerful laser. Unlike chemotherapy, it is non-toxic, is safer than existing treatments, can be used multiple times and is a good alternative when radiation therapy fails, or if the patient does not want radiation therapy.

Henry Ford Hospital has already performed over 200 light therapies with encouraging results.

"It is a good alternative to radiation and surgery for early staged lesions. It can preserve function and allow us to reserve use of radiation therapy and surgery – both known to have more functional impairment on vocal cord function – should the cancer recur following photodynamic therapy," study lead author Melissa L. Somers, M.D., with the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Henry Ford said.

Having an alternative to potentially voice damaging surgery is important since 10,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer every year.
The doctors at Henry Ford studied 10 patients with early stage squamous cell tumors of the larynx that were treated with PDT. Both before and after photodynamic therapy, patients underwent videostroboscopy exams, a state-of-the-art technique that provides a magnified, slow-motion view of the vocal cords in use. The technique uses a small, angled telescope inserted through the mouth or nose to measure vocal cord vibrations while patients repeat words or sounds. Ten weeks following treatment, there was a noticeable improvement.

"In our study, patients undergoing PDT demonstrated initial significant impairment in the vocal cord vibratory parameters of mucosal wave, non-vibrating vocal cold and amplitude of vibration as well as appearance of vocal cold edge for both the tumor and non-tumor side," Dr. Somers said. "Most notably, over the course of a few weeks and months, there were consistent trends toward normal vocal cord vibration."

However, more research will have to be done with a greater number of patients to determine the outcomes of light therapy compared with surgery or radiation, and the new treatment is not completely risk free. Although it has less side effects than chemotherapy or radiotherapy, light therapy can cause photosensitivity (sensitivity to light) and can make the patient sunburn more easily. But the side effects are temporary and lasts for about a month after treatment.

Source: Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Somers, Glendon M. Gardner, M.D.; Alice K. Silbergleit, Ph.D., CCC-SLP; and Ed Peterson, M.D, Henry Ford Hospital.

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes.

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