Revolutionary skin cancer device paves the path for pain-free treatment at home

LUGANO, Switzerland — Scientists have created a portable tool capable of decreasing the discomfort of treating basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) — all while in the comfort of a patient’s home! The device, no bigger than a coin, uses photodynamic therapy (PDT) which scientists say is as effective as the treatment cancer patients receive in a hospital. Since the typical course of PDT therapy involves two outpatient treatments that can each take well over two hours, this novel device can lessen the length of hospital time, which is all the more necessary during the ongoing pandemic.

What is photodynamic therapy?

Researchers with the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology say PDT combines the use of light-sensitive drugs and a source of light to eliminate abnormal cancer cells. Several studies have revealed its effectiveness among patients with low-risk BCC.

“The importance of a portable PDT device is crucial in its country of origin, Brazil, where many patients need to travel more than 300km to receive specialized dermatological treatment. However, the global pandemic accelerated the need to develop this at-home treatment element, which has the potential to impact the treatment of BCC internationally,” says Ana Gabriela Salvio, the lead author of the study, in a media release.

For the initial test, 15 individuals with BCC underwent a PDT session at Amaral Carvalho Hospital in Brazil. Researchers started by using a 20-percent methyl aminolevulinate cream on the cancerous area, then illuminated the area with a red LED light for 20 minutes. Next, the team added a thin layer of the cream to the area, followed by the portable device, which they kept in place using tape.

Each patient then had to wait for 90 minutes before turning on the device for two hours. Since this was an easy task to accomplish at home, each patient was able to finish the treatment without needing to enter a hospital. Researchers asked the patients to gauge their pain on a scale of 0 to 10 (zero being no pain and 10 being the most severe). Participants completed this in three-minute intervals in the hospital and in 20-minute intervals at home.

At-home device nearly the same as hospital procedures

Results revealed comparable effectiveness between at-home PDT and hospital PDT treatments (86.67% similarity) however, using the device for at-home treatment significantly reduced the amount of pain patients experienced.

“Our study results could have a hugely positive impact on the treatment of basal cell carcinoma in Brazil and the rest of the world. Patients reporting much lower levels of pain from the at-home treatment is really encouraging, especially because it doesn’t come at the cost of efficacy,” adds Salvio.

She and her team now await the results from clinical trials and a patent.

“The fight against skin cancer is an important priority for the EADV. The findings of this breakthrough pilot study present a new, exciting way of delivering cancer therapies for home treatment, with the potential to transform how BCC is treated globally,” concludes Marie-Aleth Richard, EADV Board Member and a professor at the University Hospital of La Timone, Marseille.

Researchers presented their findings at the 30th EADV Congress.