CAR-T Therapy for Cancer: Your Most Frequently Asked Questions Answered

Scientists have developed a new weapon in the battle against certain forms of cancer, and it’s called CAR-T therapy. CAR-T is a form of cell therapy that uses the body’s own healthy T cells (white blood cells that help your body fight off infection and illness) to target cancer. The fight takes place inside the body with CAR-T cells tracking down cancerous cells and blasting them with cytotoxins. As a result, in an ideal scenario, cancerous cells die, and patients experience remission from cancer. But to enable those healthy T cells to wage battle, they must first be genetically altered to contain the chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR.

How Is a Car-T Cell Made?

To produce these cancer super-fighters, scientists first harvest healthy T cells. Currently, these cells come from the patient who’s being treated. But because patients who have cancer often have a shortage of healthy white blood cells, scientists are working on ways to have healthy cells at the ready whenever a patient needs them.

Once the cells are harvested, they’re modified to contain the chimeric antigen receptors. The modified cells are then released back into the body, where they attach to cancerous cells, attack, and kill them.

Does CAR-T Therapy Work Against All Forms of Cancer?

CAR-T cell therapy has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat several forms of cancer, including:

  • Treatment-resistant non-Hodgkin lymphoma in adults
  • Some instances of mantle-cell lymphoma
  • Some instances of follicular lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Some instances of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in both children and adults

The results of CAR-T therapy have been optimistic. And scientists are hopeful that this new way of fighting cancer from the inside out is only the beginning of all the ways CAR-T cell therapy may benefit future patients.

Is CAR-T Therapy Safe?

There are risks involved with most medical procedures, and CAR-T cell therapy is no exception. Patients who undergo this treatment are closely monitored throughout. This helps to prevent or address any serious side effects, such as cytokine release syndrome, or CRS. Cytokine release syndrome is an inflammatory process that may begin within 3 to 14 days of the release of CAR-T cells into the body. Usually, it causes flu-like symptoms, but it can worsen and begin to affect the major organs of the body. Doctors closely monitor patients who’ve recently undergone this type of immunotherapy so they can be prompt in addressing issues such as CRS.

Is CAR-T Cell Therapy Available Everywhere?

This type of cell therapy is relatively new to the medical world, which means it requires highly specialized care. Larger research hospitals such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offer CAR-T cell therapy. If you live in a larger metropolitan area, you may have nearby access to a hospital that’s able to perform cell therapy, as well.

How Do I Learn More About CAR-T Cell Therapy?

More information is available regarding CAR-T cell therapy from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and Penn Medicine, where the technique was first developed. You may also be able to participate in a clinical trial by calling the telephone numbers available on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute webpage.

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