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What is Photodynamic Therapy?

Photodynamic therapy is a new and mostly experimental procedure used to treat certain types of cancer or other tumors in dogs, cats, and humans. This therapy is often a good alternative for treating superficial and small tumors as it has few side effects compared to procedures such as chemotherapy and doesn’t involve any invasive surgeries. Given that the procedure is fairly new, some pet owners may be unable to locate a veterinarian who is able to administer the treatment. Additionally, given the limitations of the procedures, not all dogs will be candidates for photodynamic therapy. 

Photodynamic Therapy Procedure in Dogs

Photodynamic therapy is a simple procedure that can either be performed on its own or in combination with other more traditional cancer therapies such as chemotherapy or surgical removal of tumors. Unfortunately, once cancer has metastasized, your dog is no longer a good candidate for this therapy.

Depending on your dog’s disposition, they may need only a mild sedative in order to undergo photodynamic therapy. Some animals may need to be anesthetized in order to allow for precision treatment. In these cases, the vet will want to order full bloodwork to confirm there are no underlying conditions that may create complications while your dog is under anesthesia.

Photodynamic therapy is administered through the injection of a photosensitizing drug directly into the tumor. This drug will accumulate within the malignant cells. Next, a special laser light is directed at the location of the tumor. Light is emitted in a wavelength designed to specifically interact with the drug. The light then reacts with the compound, causing the destruction and death of the cells in the area where the drug has accumulated.

This therapy is typically administered as an outpatient procedure. This means your dog will be able to arrive and go home the same day and will not require an extended stay at the veterinary office.

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Efficacy of Photodynamic Therapy in Dogs

While still in early stages and not yet widely available, photodynamic therapy has proven effective for treating localized cancer tumors. In addition to destroying the tumor cells, it can also help shrink the tumor by destroying blood supply and other supporting tissues. This means that photodynamic therapy is also effective when used in combination with other more traditional tumor therapies. Like all therapies, there is potential for the tumor to reoccur if all of the cells are not removed or killed.

When compared with treatments such as chemotherapy or surgical removal, photodynamic therapy has a similar effectiveness for destruction of the tumor and prevention of regrowth. 

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Photodynamic Therapy Recovery in Dogs

There is little impact to surrounding tissues during photodynamic therapy, which makes recovery time minimal with little to no side effects. Some dogs may see irritation to the surrounding tissue caused by the laser light, but this should be minimal and easily treated similarly to a burn or sunburn.

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Cost of Photodynamic Therapy in Dogs

Given the experimental nature of photodynamic therapy and the fact that very few veterinarians are currently offering the procedure, the cost of this therapy can vary widely. In general, you should estimate that each treatment will cost between $300 to $500, with multiple treatments needed for complete efficacy. The cost of the procedure can vary depending on the size of the tumor, which will affect the amount of compound needed. In some cases, clinical trials may be available which will lower the price of the procedure.

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Dog Photodynamic Therapy Considerations

Photodynamic therapy is an excellent choice for treating superficial cancer tumors. Unlike chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy does not cause damage to the surrounding tissues or overall immune system. Treatment is highly localized to the tumor in which the photosensitive compounds accumulate. 

Photodynamic therapy is only appropriate for a small number of tumors, given the fact that light can only penetrate so far through tissue. For these tumors, surgery, chemotherapy or other medications may be needed. 

Photodynamic therapy can also be used in connection with traditional therapies to help reduce stress to the surrounding tissues. For example, the therapy has been used to reduce the size of tumors prior to surgery or for treatment of larger tumors in between chemotherapy rounds, allowing your dog to recover and regain strength between treatments. 

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Photodynamic Therapy Prevention in Dogs

While the cause of most cancers is unknown, there are many things you can do to prevent the types of cancers treated with photodynamic therapy. Small masses located near the surface of the skin are often melanomas or carcinomas that result from too much exposure to the sun. Both humans and dogs should avoid prolonged exposure to sun. Just like yourself, dogs with thin or close coats can benefit from a canine-safe sunscreen in order to help prevent skin cancer.

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Photodynamic Therapy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Ollie

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pit bull terrier

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Muscle Tremors
Shaking
Limping
Lameness

Do you think photodynamic therapy would work for dogs with osteosarcoma? My 10 year Dog was diagnosed via X-ray and I’m trying to avoid amputation (and chemo)? Thanks in advance!

Jan. 30, 2018

Ollie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

In cases of osteosarcoma, amputation is generally considered the treatment of choice as it will aid in pain relief and increases life expectancy in dogs with this condition. You should consider amputation since photodynamic therapy is a adjunct therapy combined with other treatment options (surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy etc…). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Jan. 30, 2018

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Oceana

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CockerSpaniel and Shitzu mix

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14 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Urinating A Lot

My dog was diagnosed with early stage of carcinoma of the bladder, I heard about Photodynamic Theraphy where in New York can I find a Veterinary that performs this procedure.

Dec. 20, 2017

Oceana's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Firstly, if your dog has transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder you should make sure they are on piroxicam, speak with your Veterinarian if they are not on it. I do not know of anywhere in New York City or New York State where you can get photodynamic therapy, I would suggest speaking with your local Veterinarian or contacting the Veterinary School at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/diagnosis-treatment-transitional-cell-carcinoma-tcc-dogs?id=&sk;=&date;=&pageID;=2

Dec. 20, 2017

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Maui

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Golden Retreiver

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4

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

I am looking for a doctor who performs this in the Ft Lauderdale, Florida area. I have a four year old Golden Retriever diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Nov. 21, 2017

Maui's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Currently I do not know of any specific center in your area offering photodynamic therapy but I would recommend you check the link below and call the centers listed around your area to ask if they offer that service. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.petcancercenter.org/Veterinary_Oncologists_US_p1.html#FL

Nov. 21, 2017

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Jessie

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Labrador Retriever

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13 years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

I am looking for a doctor who would do photodynamic therapy in a 13 yo dog with Squamous Cell Cancer of the gum. We live near San Francisco. Are there any vets you can put me in contact with that do this procedure?

Sept. 11, 2017

Jessie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

The largest practices with board certified Oncologists near San Francisco would be Sage Centers, so it would be worth giving them a ring and asking them about the services that they offer; around 90 minutes away from the center of San Francisco you have UC Davis Veterinary School which has a world class Oncology Center, so again it would be worth calling them too. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.sagecenters.com/Oncology www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vmth/small_animal/oncology/index.cfm http://find.vetspecialists.com (allows you to search all board certified Oncologists in your area)

Sept. 11, 2017

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Bowie

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Mutt

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Cancer

Trying to get opinoins on PDT (photodynamic therapy) as a viable choice for Oral SCC? - Would you consider this in conjunction with traditional radiation and medical oncology treatments? I've found studies and reports that say it works, however there's not enough of a body of evidence and this type of treatment is not very prevalent among vets so I'm wondering if it's a 'real' treatment or just a scam.

July 26, 2017

Bowie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Reputable sources for the efficacy of photodynamic therapy are hard to come by (plenty of uncited reports and forum posts); I can only reference reputable sources. A study in 2000 (referenced below in the link) by the University of Missouri, and published in the British Journal of Cancer; showed good success with photodynamic therapy for oral squamous cell carcinomas in dogs: the abstract states “Local treatment of oral squamous cell carcinomas with PDT appears to give results similar to those obtained with surgical removal of large portions of the mandible or maxilla”. I personally have no first hand experience of photodynamic therapy, but rely on reputable sources for information like the link below. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVMwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10755404

July 26, 2017

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