Toxicities and early outcomes in a phase 1 trial of photodynamic therapy for premalignant and early stage head and neck tumors

Peter H. Ahn, Harry Quon, Bert W. O'Malley, Gregory Weinstein, Ara Chalian, Kelly Malloy, Joshua H. Atkins, Thomas Sollecito, Martin Greenberg, Sally McNulty, Alexander Lin, Timothy C. Zhu, Jarod C. Finlay, Keith Cengel, Virginia Livolsi, Michael Feldman, Rosemarie Mick, Theresa M. Busch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


SummaryObjectives Management of early superficial lesions in the head and neck remains complex. We performed a phase 1 trial for high-grade premalignant and early superficial lesions of the head and neck using photodynamic therapy (PDT) with Levulan (ALA). Materials and methods Thirty-five subjects with high grade dysplasia, carcinoma in situ, or microinvasive (≤1.5 mm depth) squamous cell carcinoma were enrolled. Cohorts of 3-6 patients were given escalating intraoperative light doses of 50-200 J/cm2 4-6 h after oral administration of 60 mg/kg ALA. Light at 629-635 nm was delivered in a continuous (unfractionated) or fractionated (two-part) schema. Results PDT was delivered to 30/35 subjects, with 29 evaluable. There was one death possibly due to the treatment. The regimen was otherwise tolerable, with a 52% rate of grade 3 mucositis which healed within several weeks. Other toxicities were generally grade 1 or 2, including odynophagia (one grade 4), voice alteration (one grade 3), and photosensitivity reactions. One patient developed grade 5 sepsis. With a median follow-up of 42 months, 10 patients (34%) developed local recurrence; 4 of these received 50 J/cm2 and two each received 100, 150, and 200 J/cm2. Ten (34%) patients developed recurrence adjacent to the treated field. There was a 69% complete response rate at 3 months. Conclusions ALA-PDT is well tolerated. Maximum Tolerated Dose appears to be higher than the highest dose used in this study. Longer followup is required to analyze effect of light dose on local recurrence. High marginal recurrence rates suggest use of larger treatment fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-42
Number of pages6
JournalOral Oncology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • ALA
  • Aminolevulinic acid
  • Carcinoma in situ
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Levulan
  • PDT
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Protoporphyrin IX
  • Severe dysplasia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oral Surgery
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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