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New photodynamic therapy used in Edmonton

EDMONTON – Capital Health’s Royal Alexandra Hospital is now offering Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) to patients with esophageal cancer or advanced Barrett’s Esophagus on a pilot basis.

“We’re thrilled to offer this innovative treatment as an option for patients in the Capital Health region, northern Alberta and beyond. It is less invasive and safer than surgery and can be performed in conjunction with other therapies,” says Dr. Clarence Wong, medical lead for the project and Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, University of Alberta. “It also allows us to provide this treatment to patients closer to home.”

PDT is a treatment option for patients with esophageal cancer or advanced Barrett’s Esophagus who previously would have undergone radiation, chemotherapy, stent placement, surgery, or a combination of these therapies.

Barrett’s Esophagus occurs in 10 percent of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). As the esophagus tries to protect itself from acid reflux, it grows abnormal tissue in the troubled area. That tissue has a significant risk of turning into cancer.

Patients are intravenously given the agent Photofrin, which is absorbed by Barrett’s or cancerous cells. A couple of days after the injection, a laser is used in the esophagus to activate the agent which causes the cancerous cells to die and slough off. The agent works in the problematic areas allowing Dr. Wong and the PDT team to attack only the abnormal cells without damaging healthy cells.

Dr. Wong and his team received training at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York last year.

“Capital Health has never before offered this therapy for gastrointestinal patients so our team had a great deal of learning to do,” says Dr. Wong. The agent makes patients extremely sensitive to light so our staff have to ensure the patients are well covered so they don’t burn while in hospital or out,” says Dr. Wong.

The PDT team also has to educate patients on how their bodies will react with the agent. Patients are required to minimize bright light and sunlight for 90 days following the treatment. Long sleeves, pants, gloves, socks and sunglasses are required when heading outdoors and patients are required to wear a balaclava or scarf to cover their faces and necks.

Patients must also modify their living environment while the agent is in their system. Some types of lighting at home have to be dimmed and patients need to avoid sitting near a sunny window since they won’t feel their skin burning.The pilot project, which is being funded by Capital Health, will treat 15 patients over the next several months. Once the pilot is complete there will be a comprehensive evaluation which will determine whether PDT will continue.To date, four patients have undergone the treatment.

“PDT is an innovative technology which has furthered our knowledge base in Capital Health and this pilot project has been a tremendous opportunity to learn and to share that specialized knowledge,” says Dr. Wong.

About Capital Health
Capital Health in Edmonton is Canada’s largest health region and is affiliated with the University of Alberta, providing integrated health services to one million residents in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Capital Health acts as a referral centre to central and northern Alberta, the North and the Prairies, providing specialized services such as trauma and burn treatment, organ transplants and high-risk obstetrics.