The effects of phototherapy on the risk of skin cancer have long been controversial.
But what are the different types of phototherapy?
What is it even used for?
What exactly is phototherapy?
Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, is a treatment which involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB) rays under medical supervision. This is different than heliotherapy, where skin is exposed directly to the sun.
When using phototherapy, the UV light enters the upper layer of the skin affecting skin and nearby immune cells in ways that we don’t fully understand,” explains Dr. Litvinov, Director of Dermatology Research at McGill University. “Ultimately, and fortunately this leads to an improvement in various skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema or vitiligo, to name a few.” Phototherapy can be done in a
There are a few studies that have looked into this matter. As mentioned before, evidence suggests that there are no significant associations between patients who undergo NB-UVB treatment and the risk of melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancers. However, the same can’t be said for patients who are treated with Broad Band UVB or PUVA radiation. These patients were found to have a higher incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer and melanoma. Therefore, continuous monitoring is advised in patients who have underwent lengthy courses of PUVA radiation. “These patients have to come at least once a year for a skin check to make sure that there is no melanoma or other skin cancers,” highlights Dr. Litvinov
Ultimately, research suggests that NB-UVB phototherapy prevails as a safer treatment modality and that phototherapy in general should not be indicated in patients with a history of melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer.
Tanning beds and sunlight are also considered to be types of phototherapy. We’ve all heard of people turning to tanning beds to “catch some rays” during the winter to feel better. Besides, tanning beds are safer than tanning outdoors, right? Wrong. Since tanning beds mostly emit UVA light, some used to believe that it mainly caused skin aging. However, we now know that the longer wavelengths seen in UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are highly associated to skin cancer, including melanoma. Just ONE tanning session significantly increases your chances by 20% of developing a cancer! So it’s not safe or recommended by a doctor as an alternative to phototherapy.
In conclusion, phototherapy is a powerful medicine that can treat many skin conditions. It is important to discuss risks and benefits with a certified dermatologist to determine the treatment that is best for you. Often the doctor will start with the safest treatment such as NB-UVB and if it does not work well in your case he or she may add a cream or a pill to help phototherapy work better. In some cases, a dermatologist may switch you to Broad Band-UVB or PUVA depending on your specific disease.