Safety and efficacy of photobiomodulation therapy in oncology: A systematic review

Cancer Med. 2020 Nov;9(22):8279-8300. doi: 10.1002/cam4.3582. Epub 2020 Oct 26.


We performed a systematic review of the current literature addressing the safety and efficacy of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) in cancer patients. In this systematic review, the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were used. In vitro, in vivo, and clinical studies, which investigated the effect of PBMT on cell proliferation/differentiation, tumor growth, recurrence rate, and/or overall survival were included. The Medline/PubMed, EMBASE, and Scopus databases were searched through April 2020. A total of 67 studies met the inclusion criteria with 43 in vitro, 15 in vivo, and 9 clinical studies identified. In vitro studies investigating the effect of PBMT on a diverse range of cancer cell lines demonstrated conflicting results. This could be due to the differences in used parameters and the frequency of PBM applications. In vivo studies and clinical trials with a follow-up period demonstrated that PBMT is safe with regards to tumor growth and patient advantage in the prevention and treatment of specific cancer therapy-related complications. Current human studies, supported by most animal studies, show safety with PBMT using currently recommended clinical parameters, including in Head & Neck cancer (HNC) in the area of PBMT exposure. A significant and growing literature indicates that PBMT is safe and effective, and may even offer a benefit in patient overall survival. Nevertheless, continuing research is indicated to improve understanding and provide further elucidation of remaining questions regarding PBM use in oncology.

Keywords: cancer; photobiomodulation; safety; supportive care; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / radiation effects
  • Cell Proliferation / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Low-Level Light Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Low-Level Light Therapy* / mortality
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Burden / radiation effects