Since ancient times, many cultures worldwide found out independently that the topical administration of some photoactive natural products (mainly extracted from plants) followed by exposure to sunlight, might be an effective treatment of some skin diseases, thus accidently giving birth to the so-called photochemotherapy. In the attempt to resemble nature by exploiting its teaching, during the last two centuries, scientists tried to rationalize this knowledge in order to develop more effective therapeutic strategies and to understand in depth the mechanisms of action involved, expanding the potential application of this therapy to pathologies other than skin diseases, such as some types of tumors. In this paper we aim at giving an overview on results achieved to date on state-of-the-art photochemotherapy related to the treatment of cancer. The script is organized in three sections. Subsequent to a general introduction describing the origin and basic principles of photochemotherapy, the first section deals with the issue concerning the choice of the proper light sources for each type of therapeutic application, stressing the technological advances in the field (e.g. fiber optics). The second and the third sections provide an overview of the two clinically-established phototherapies to date, that is, PUVA photochemotherapy and PDT, respectively. Both sections are further subdivided into sub-paragraphs emphasizing specific relate topics such as principles and applications, employed light sources, and available data concerning anticancer activity. The third section also provides examples of nonconventional metal-based photosensitizers for PDT.
Keywords: Anticancer activity, PDT, photochemotherapy, photosensitizer, porphyrin, psoralen, PUVA
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