Methyl aminolevulinate photodynamic therapy (MAL PDT)
Methyl aminolevulinate (MAL) is a topical photosensitising agent that is used in photodynamic therapy (PDT). It is available as a 16% strength cream in a 2g tube. The trade name is Metvix™.
How does methyl aminolevulinate PDT work?
When applied to the skin, methyl aminolevulinate is selectively absorbed into cancer cells. The drug is converted into photoactive porphyrins, naturally-occurring intracellular photosensitising chemicals that bind with iron to make haemoglobin. When cancer cells full of porphyrins are exposed to specific wavelength of light (570-670 nm), a molecular reaction occurs that results in destruction of the cancer cells.
What is methyl aminolevulinate PDT used for?
Methyl aminolevulinate is classed as an antineoplastic agent (anti-cancer drug) and is approved for use in New Zealand for the treatment of:
Thin solar keratoses (
sun spots) on the face and scalp
- Superficial and/or thin nodular basal cell carcinomas
At present, PDT is recommended for lesions that are unsuitable for other available therapies due to possible complications and/or poor cosmetic outcome. It may be particularly useful for lesions on the mid-face or ears, lesions on severely sun damaged skin, large lesions or recurrent lesions.
Clinical trials around the world using MAL PDT have shown it to have comparable or better cure rates than other conventional treatments such as cryotherapy or surgery. A distinct advantage of MAL PDT is that it selectively targets tumour cells. This means that surrounding healthy cells are not affected by the treatment thus leaving minimal scarring and a much better cosmetic outcome.
How is MAL PDT given?
MAl PDT involves a two-stage process. The first stage is application of the methyl aminolevulinate (MAL) cream.
Applying Metvix® cream
Protecting treated area
- Prepare the surface of the skin lesion by removing scales and crusts (light scraping or curretage). The top of the lesion may need to be removed so that it is less than 1 mm in thickness.
- Using a spatula apply a 1mm thick layer of methyl aminolevulinate cream to the lesion and surrounding 5 mm of normal skin.
- Cover with an occlusive dressing for 3 hours. During this time you may be allowed to leave the surgery as long as you do not disturb the dressing and keep it out of direct sunlight.
Small Aktilite lamp
Large Aktilite lamp
Patient undergoing treatment
The second stage involves exposing the lesion to light.
- Remove dressing and clean treatment area with saline.
- Lignocaine (lidocaine) spray may be applied to relieve burning sensation and pain that may occur.
- Expose lesion to red light with a continuous spectrum of 570-670 nm and a total dose of 75 J/cm2. A source of red light with a narrower spectrum may be used, e.g. Aktilite (illustrated, wavelength 630nm, 70-100mW/cm2). Both doctor and patient should wear protective eye goggles and the light source should be 50mm from the skin lesion. Treatment may take 5-15 minutes.
- Light intensity at the lesion surface should not exceed 200 mW/cm2.
After treatment the lesions will be covered with an occlusive dressing for at least 24 hours. Lesions usually heal completely within one to four weeks. More than one lesion can be treated in a single treatment session. A repeat second treatment may be done approximately one week later: this is recommended for most basal cell carcinomas and thicker solar keratoses.
Your practitioner will arrange to check the lesions after about 3 months. If they show a non-complete response re-treatment may be necessary.
Prior to treatment
just before Metvix® cream application
One week after MAL PDT
One month after MAL PDT
No sign of original lesion
- The safety of MAL PDT has not yet been established in patients under 18 years old, but skin cancers very rarely affect this age group.
- The safety of MAL PDT has not yet been established in pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is therefore not recommended for use during pregnancy.
- Discontinue breastfeeding for 48 hours after application of methyl aminolevulinate.
Hypersensitivity or allergic reactions to active substance or any of the excipients may occur. These include:
- Arachis (peanut) oil
- Cetostearyl alcohol
- Methyl- and propyl-para hydroxybenzoate (E218, E216)
- Avoid sun exposure on treated lesions sites for at least a couple of days following treatment.
Approximate 60-80% of patients in clinical trials experience some side effects. These are usually related to the treated area being sensitive to light. Side effects are of mild to moderate intensity and usually subside within a few days after treatment.
As the skin cancers cells die off, the lesion may blister and ulcerate. This generally heals within 4 weeks.
|Frequency of reported side effects|
Storage and handling
- Store Metvix® cream in a refrigerator (2-8 degC)
- Discard 1 week after opening the tube
The Metvix™ QuickTime movie is approx 2 1/2 minutes in duration (4.3MB). Click here to view the movie.
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Medical Practitioners may contact the sponsor Galderma for further information about Metvix™ Cream PDT.
On DermNet NZ:
- Medsafe: data sheet for Metvix
- Galderma's site for PDT information
- Photodynamic Therapy for the Dermatologist – Medscape Reference
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