The efficacy of photodynamic therapy (PDT) alone was evaluated on 41 ‘early’ squamous cell carcinomas of the pharynx (10), oesophagus (15) and tracheo-bronchial tree (16). All lesions but two were synchronous second primaries in ENT-patients suffering from a more extensive cancer, governing the overall oncological prognosis. Photofrin I (3 mg/kg) or Photofrin II (2 mg/kg) were injected 72 h prior to the red light irradiation, supplied by an argon pumped dye laser. A diffusing cylinder was used to obtain a homogeneous light distribution at the tumour site (60 J to 150 J/cm2). In the oesophagus and bronchi, the results are good for cancers staged in situ or microinvasive at endoscopy (two recurrencies for 23 lesions treated). For more advanced cancers (submucosal in the oesophagus or invading the bronchial cartilage), the results are less satisfactory (three recurrencies for eight lesions treated). In the pharynx where light dosimetry is more difficult, the rate of recurrencies is higher (3/10 lesions treated). In the bronchi (one case) and oesophagus (one case), the longest disease-free survival is now 5 years. The irradiation of a non-cancerous zone of normal buccal mucosa on 25 patients having received HPD showed necrosis in all cases with light doses as low as 50mW/cm2 for 20 min (60 J cm−2), even with Photofrin II. We encountered six complications (three cicatricial stenosis, two fistulae, one severe sunburn), most of them resulting from the lack of selectivity of HPD. According to these experiments, PDT is efficient at destroying early squamous cell carcinomas in the pharynx, oesophagus and bronchi, but the tumour selectivity of HPD is poor in the digestive tract lined with squamous cell epithelium. The only hope for the future lies in the synthesis of a more selective and more stable photosensitizer. This discussion reviews possible directions of research for the development of new dyes (cationic dyes, dyes attached to monoclonal antibodies, etc), for PDT and hyperthermia, for photodetection of early cancers using a fluoro-endoscope, and finally, for tumour depth profiling in hollow organs using lasers of different wavelengths.