Conventional and combination topical photodynamic therapy for basal cell carcinoma: systematic review and meta-analysis

N. J. Collier, A. K. Haylett, T. H. Wong, C. A. Morton, S. H. Ibbotson, K. E. McKenna, R. Mallipeddi, H. Moseley, D. Seukeran, K. A. Ward, M. F. Mohd Mustapa, L. S. Exton, A. C. Green, L. E. Rhodes (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Background: Topical photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an established treatment option for low-risk basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

Objectives: To compare efficacy, cosmesis and tolerability of PDT for BCC with alternative treatments.

Methods: MEDLINE, PubMed, Embase and CENTRAL databases were searched from inception until 1 September 2017. Included studies were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of PDT for nodular (n) and superficial (s) BCC reporting at least one of the following outcomes: clearance at 3 months and sustained at 1 or 5 years; recurrence at ≥ 1 year; cosmesis; adverse events; tolerability.

Results: From 2331 search results, 15 RCTs (2327 patients; 3509 BCCs) were included. PDT efficacy (5-year sustained clearance) was high but inferior to excisional surgery [nBCC pooled risk ratio (RR) 0·76; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0·63–0·91], and without re-treatment of partially responding lesions, was modestly inferior to imiquimod (sBCC: RR 0·81; 95% CI 0·70–0·95) and similar to fluorouracil (sBCC: RR 0·88; 95% CI 0·75–1·04). Five-year sustained clearance was inferior with conventional vs. fractionated PDT (sBCC: RR 0·76; 95% CI 0·68–0·84). PDT cosmesis was superior to surgery (sBCC: RR 1·68, 95% CI 1·32–2·14; nBCC: RR 1·82, 95% CI 1·19–2·80) and cryosurgery (BCC: RR 3·73, 95% CI 1·96–7·07), and without re-treatment of partially responding lesions was similar to imiquimod (sBCC: RR 1·01, 95% CI 0·85–1·19) and fluorouracil (sBCC: RR 1·04, 95% CI 0·88–1·24). Peak pain was higher but of shorter duration with PDT than topical treatments. Serious adverse reactions were rarer with PDT than imiquimod (sBCC: RR 0·05, 95% CI 0·00–0·84) and fluorouracil (sBCC: RR 0·11, 95% CI 0·01–2·04). Combination PDT regimens demonstrated reduced recurrence and improved cosmesis; however, results from these small studies were often nonsignificant.

Conclusions: PDT is an effective treatment for low-risk BCC, with excellent cosmesis and safety. Imiquimod has higher efficacy than single-cycle PDT but more adverse effects. Highest efficacy is with excisional surgery. Fractionated and combination PDT options warrant further study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1277-1296
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Dermatology
Issue number6
Early online date11 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2018


  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Cosmesis
  • Imiquimod
  • Fluorouracil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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