Actinic Keratosis Brightening Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic Therapy Using Levulan and Blue Light: A Promising Strategy for Targeted Cancer Treatment


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has emerged as a versatile modality in the management of various medical conditions, including cancer and certain dermatological disorders. Specifically, the use of Levulan (aminolevulinic acid hydrochloride) activated by blue light has shown promise in treating conditions such as actinic keratosis, superficial basal cell carcinoma, and even acne vulgaris (Agostinis et al., 2011). This blog post aims to shed light on the principles, applications, and evidence-based benefits of photodynamic therapy using Levulan and blue light.

Principles of Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy involves three key components: a photosensitizing agent, a light source, and molecular oxygen. When the photosensitizing agent is exposed to light of a specific wavelength, it undergoes a chemical transformation that enables it to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage targeted cells (Dolmans et al., 2003).

Role of Levulan

Levulan (5-aminolevulinic acid or ALA) serves as a prodrug, converting into a potent photosensitizer called protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) within the target cells. Unlike other photosensitizing agents, Levulan has the advantage of higher selectivity toward cancerous or abnormal cells, thereby reducing collateral damage to healthy tissues (Babilas et al., 2010).

Activation with Blue Light

The activation of Levulan is achieved through exposure to blue light with a specific wavelength range (typically around 400–450 nm). The blue light triggers the protoporphyrin IX, leading to the generation of ROS, which subsequently induce apoptosis or necrosis in target cells (Wang et al., 2019).


Actinic Keratosis

One of the most common applications of PDT with Levulan and blue light is in the treatment of actinic keratosis, a pre-cancerous condition. Multiple studies have shown the efficacy of this treatment modality, with clearance rates often exceeding 70% (Goldman & Atkin, 2002).

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Levulan-based PDT has also been successfully employed in treating superficial basal cell carcinoma. Studies indicate that this approach can achieve complete response rates of over 80% (Morton et al., 2006).

Acne Vulgaris

Levulan-PDT offers a unique, non-antibiotic approach for managing acne vulgaris. Clinical trials have demonstrated significant reduction in inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions following treatment (Orringer et al., 2004).

Advantages and Limitations


  • Minimally invasive
  • Lower risk of scarring
  • Targeted treatment with less damage to surrounding tissues


  • Sensitivity to light following treatment
  • Potential for short-term redness and swelling
  • Limited to superficial lesions


Photodynamic therapy using Levulan and blue light offers a targeted, effective, and minimally invasive approach for treating a range of dermatological conditions and superficial cancers. However, more extensive research is needed to explore its full potential, particularly in treating deep-seated tumors.


  1. Agostinis, P., Berg, K., Cengel, K. A., Foster, T. H., Girotti, A. W., Gollnick, S. O., … & Kessel, D. (2011). Photodynamic therapy of cancer: An update. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 61(4), 250-281.
  2. Babilas, P., Schreml, S., Szeimies, R. M., & Landthaler, M. (2010). Photodynamic therapy in dermatology: state-of-the-art. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine, 26(3), 118-132.
  3. Dolmans, D. E., Fukumura, D., & Jain, R. K. (2003). Photodynamic therapy for cancer. Nature reviews. Cancer, 3(5), 380-387.
  4. Goldman, M. P., & Atkin, D. (2002). Photodynamic therapy in the treatment of actinic keratosis. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 1(3), 291-296.
  5. Morton, C. A., Whitehurst, C., McColl, J. H., Moore, J. V., & MacKie, R. M. (2006). Photodynamic therapy for large or multiple patches of Bowen disease and basal cell carcinoma. Archives of Dermatology, 142(6), 729-735.
  6. Orringer, J. S., Kang, S., Maier, L., Johnson, T. M., Sachs, D. L., Karimipour, D. J., … & Hamilton, T. (2004). A randomized, controlled, split‐face clinical trial of 1320‐nm Nd: YAG laser therapy in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 50(3), 443-448.
  7. Wang, X., Hu, J., Wang, P., Zhang, S., Liu, Y., Xiong, W., … & Huang, H. (2019). Applications and Advances of Photodynamic Therapy with Curcumin: A Review. Bioengineering, 6(3), 81.