Background: Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is increasingly used as a noninvasive treatment for nodular basal cell carcinoma (BCC), without a sound evidence base.
Objective: To compare topical PDT, with the use of the sensitizer methyl aminolevulinate, and standard excision surgery in nodular BCC.
Design: Prospective, randomized study.
Setting: University dermatology departments.
Patients: A total of 101 adults with previously untreated nodular BCC.
Interventions: Patients received methyl aminolevulinate PDT (n = 52) or surgery (n = 49). The PDT was given twice, 7 days apart, with methyl aminolevulinate cream (160 mg/g) and 75 J/cm(2) red light (570-670 nm). Thirteen patients with a noncomplete response to PDT at 3 months (24% lesions) were retreated.
Outcome measures: Primary end point was clinically assessed lesion clearance at 3 months after treatment. Secondary end points were sustained response rate at 12 months and cosmetic outcome at 3 and 12 months. Cosmesis and lesion recurrence were further assessed at 24 months.
Results: Data from 97 patients (105 lesions) were included in the 3-month per-protocol analysis. Complete response rates did not differ significantly between groups (51/52 [98%] lesions with surgery vs 48/53 [91%] lesions with methyl aminolevulinate PDT; difference [95% confidence interval], 4.8% (-3.4% to 13.0%]; P =.25). At 12 months, tumor-free rates were 50 (96%) of 52 lesions with surgery vs 44 (83%) of 53 with methyl aminolevulinate PDT (P =.15). More patients treated with methyl aminolevulinate PDT than surgery had an excellent or good cosmetic outcome at all time points (significant at 12 and 24 months on patient assessment, P<.05, and at 3, 12, and 24 months on investigator evaluation, P<.001). At 24 months, 5 lesions that had initially cleared with methyl aminolevulinate PDT had recurred, compared with 1 after surgery.
Conclusions: Methyl aminolevulinate PDT is an effective treatment for nodular BCC, and while there is a trend for higher recurrence with this modality, it conveys the advantage over surgery of better cosmesis.