Technology Insight: photodynamic therapy for cholangiocarcinoma

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Cholangiocarcinoma is, in most cases, rapidly fatal. Curative resection can only be offered to approximately 10% of patients. Even after seemingly curative resection, recurrence frequently occurs. Adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy do not reduce the recurrence rate after resection. In the palliative setting, endoscopic or percutaneous biliary drainage is performed to relieve jaundice; however, poor results have been obtained in patients with tumors involving the intrahepatic bile ducts. Biliary drainage alleviates jaundice, but there is no evidence that it prolongs life. Palliative chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy have not been proven to prolong life and relieve jaundice. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a relatively new local, minimally invasive procedure that can be used to treat cholangiocarcinoma. PDT uses the physical properties of light-absorbing molecules, so-called photosensitizers, which accumulate within proliferating cells. Activation of the photosensitizer by a non-thermal laser leads to selective photochemical destruction of tumors. In a randomized trial of patients with nonresectable cholangiocarcinoma, PDT prolonged survival time, improved cholestasis and quality of life considerably, and had a favorable side-effect profile. A second randomized trial confirmed the beneficial effect of PDT. For the time being, PDT is recommended for patients with nonresectable disease. The role of PDT before and after surgical resection needs to be assessed.

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