Photodynamic therapy as palliation for esophageal cancer: experience in 215 patients

Ann Thorac Surg. 2003 Nov;76(5):1687-92; discussion 1692-3. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(03)01299-2.


Background: Photodynamic therapy (PDT) utilizes a photosensitizing agent, light, and oxygen to endoscopically ablate cancer cells. This review summarizes our experience with PDT for the palliation of bleeding or obstructing esophageal cancer (EC).

Methods: All patients with bleeding or obstructing EC treated with PDT from November 1996 through June 2002, were reviewed. After Photofrin II injection, nonthermal light treatment was delivered endoscopically. Dysphagia scores, duration of palliation, reinterventions, complications, and survival after treatment were reviewed.

Results: A total of 215 patients underwent 318 courses of PDT for bleeding (n = 15), obstruction (n = 277), bleeding and obstruction (n = 18), or other indications (n = 8). Tumor histology included 179 adenocarcinomas, 33 squamous cell carcinomas, and 3 undifferentiated. Seventy-five percent of EC were in the distal esophagus. In 85% of courses for obstruction, mean dysphagia scores improved pre- and post-PDT. The mean dysphagia-free interval was 66 days. Supplemental nutrition was discontinued after PDT in 8 of 27 patients (30%). Thirty-five patients required stent placement after PDT with a mean interval to reintervention of 58.5 days. PDT complications included perforation (2% of treatment courses), stricture (2%), Candida esophagitis (2%), pleural effusions (4%), and sunburn (6%). The procedure-related mortality rate was 1.8%, and median survival was 4.8 months.

Conclusions: PDT offers effective palliation for patients with obstructing EC in 85% of treatment courses. The ideal EC patient for PDT palliation has an obstructing endoluminal cancer. Patients living more than 2 months may require reintervention to maintain palliation of malignant dysphagia, and a multimodality treatment approach is common.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dihematoporphyrin Ether / administration & dosage*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophagoscopy / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intralesional
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Photochemotherapy / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survival Rate
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Dihematoporphyrin Ether