Study: Photodynamic Therapy with Lung-Sparing Surgery Works for Patients

Female surgeon wearing mask in an operating room

The latest combination of photodynamic therapy and lung-sparing surgery is the best treatment option available today for mesothelioma patients looking for longer survival time and improved quality of life, according to one recent study.

New research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has detailed unusual success with this combination therapy that represents significant progress in mesothelioma treatment.

There is no cure for mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer caused by an exposure to asbestos. But there is new hope.

“While I don’t consider anything short of a cure as a victory against mesothelioma, I am encouraged by our results,” said Joseph Friedberg, M.D., lead author of the study, in a news release. “Based on our new findings, we are redoubling our clinical and translational research efforts to find a way to further improve and refine this multimodality treatment approach for mesothelioma.”

According to past research from the Mesothelioma Program at Penn, only 40 percentĀ  of patients getting traditional treatment survive more than a year after diagnosis. The typical life expectancy ranges from six to 18 months.

Yet in this latest study from Penn that included 38 patients who underwent the lung-sparing surgery and photodynamic therapy, the median overall survivalĀ  length was 31.7 months.

With the 31 patients having the epithelial mesothelioma subtype, the median survival was 41.2 months.

“We are working together as a team, not just in the clinic but in the laboratory as well, to find the best way to combine our respective expertise,” Friedberg said. “Our goal is an innovative combined treatment that represents a new level of multipronged attack on this horrendous cancer.”

Photodynamic therapy uses light energy to kill cancer cells. It involves the injection of a photo-sensitizing drug that stays longer in cancer cells than in healthy cells. When the wavelength-specific light is administered by laser, it can trigger a reaction to kill the cancer cells without harming the healthy ones.

It can cause side effects that include skin and eye sensitivity to light for several weeks. It also can cause swelling and scarring of healthy tissue.

The lung sparing surgery is in contrast to the more radical surgery that includes the removal of a lung and the lining around it in hopes of eliminating more of the cancer. Often, though, it comes with a decreased quality of life. And the post-operative mortality is usually higher.

Saving the lung often puts a patient in better condition to tolerate additional treatments during recurrence. Of the 38 patients in this study, there was one post-operative mortality (stroke).

There has been considerable debate over which surgical technique is more advantageous for a patient. Researchers have concluded that regardless of the surgery type, almost all mesothelioma patients have disease recurrence.

This latest research was published in the May issue of Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

“The survival we observed with this approach was unusually long for patients. The reason for this prolonged survival, despite recurrence, is not clear, but it is potentially related to preservation of the lung, or some PDT (photodynamic therapy) effect, or both,” the authors wrote in the conclusion. “We conclude that the results of this lung-sparing approach are safe, encouraging, and warrant further investigation.”

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at

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