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Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a type of laser treatment may be an alternative to invasive traditional surgery for lung or esophageal cancer.

With PDT, photosensitizing chemicals are injected into the bloodstream. Cells throughout the body absorb the chemicals. The chemicals collect and stay longer in the cancer cells than in the healthy cells. At the right time, when the healthy cells surrounding the tumor may already be relatively free of the chemical, the light of a laser can be focused directly on the tumor. As the cells absorb the light, a chemical reaction destroys the cancer cells.

For lung cancer, the light is delivered through a bronchoscope (a small, flexible tube with a light on the end) that is inserted through the mouth or nose. In the case of esophageal cancer, patients in the past often required surgery to remove the esophagus. Today PDT combines endoscopy with modern laser technology to destroy the cancer, often without need for further surgery.

Inova Fairfax Hospital Advanced Endoscopy Center, the first of its kind in Northern Virginia, performs photodynamic therapy.