Fighting Cancer With Light

Friday, July 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

According to the American Cancer Society, this year more than 171,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and 158,900 people will die from it. While some patients may benefit from surgery or other conventional treatments, there are a significant number of people who will not. But a new treatment may provide hope.

Bob Ross is a family man. He enjoys spending time with his wife Caroline and their four kids. Diagnosed with lung cancer over a year ago, Ross was shocked. "I was in denial. I didn't really think it was going to happen to me. You never think that, especially at this young age," he said.

Dr. Joseph Friedberg hoped to just remove the tumor. But he says what he discovered was devastating. "What we found was the tumor had spread within the chest. Normally at that point, you would close and just give chemotherapy and maybe radiation for local control and that's it," said Dr. Friedberg. The doctor estimated that Ross had only six months to live. "You just feel like somebody has punched you in the stomach and you don't know which way to turn," says Carolyn Ross.

A new treatment called photodynamic therapy offered hope. Dr. Stephan Hahn says it attacks the cancer cells that can't be removed with surgery. "There's almost always microscopic cells remaining or small cells that we just can't see remaining in the chest cavity. And that's where the photo therapy comes in," said Dr. Hahn.

Days before surgery, a light-activated drug is given to the patient. It concentrates within the cancer cells. Once the visible tumor is removed, doctors shine a bright laser within the chest cavity. It activates the drug and destroys what cancer remains. The treatment is followed with radiation.

Six months after the treatment, Bob Ross is healthy and cancer free. "I feel great. It's like starting over again," he says. So far, the only side effect reported form the photodynamic therapy is a temporary sensitivity to light. The procedure has received Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment of esophageal and early stage lung cancer. It's currently undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of ovarian, colon, some stomach and advanced lung cancers.

For more information contact: University of Pennsylvania
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1 (800) 789-PENN