CAR T therapy is a novel type of immunotherapy, or cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system, or sometimes immune cells from a donor, to identify and destroy cancer cells. If your oncologist has suggested that this treatment might be right for you, the following FAQs can help you learn more.
What is CAR T therapy?
CAR T therapy uses a genetically modified version of a patient’s own, or a donor’s, immune system cells— specifically, the T cells—to target cancer cells. These cells normally target viruses, bacteria and other noncancerous invaders. However, researchers have found that T cells can be genetically modified to seek out cancer cells, which have specific proteins on their surface. This can help the T cells distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells.
Which types of cancer is CAR T therapy used to treat?
T-cell therapies can be used to treat several different cancers – primarily those that involve the blood and bone marrow. These include:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
- Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
- Follicular lymphoma
- Mantle cell lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Transformed follicular lymphoma
- Primary mediastinal B cell lymphoma
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval of CAR T therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and B-cell lymphoma. Researchers are continuing to study additional situations in which this treatment can help improve patient outcomes and quality of life. Many clinical trials are available for the use of CAR T-cell therapy in the treatment of blood cancers and solid tumors.
What are the benefits of CAR T therapy?
Unlike chemotherapy, which destroys all rapidly dividing cells in the body regardless of whether they are healthy or cancerous, T-cell therapy only targets cancerous cells. CAR T therapy has been shown to produce favorable outcomes in certain cases where other treatments have stopped working. For instance, it has been able to produce complete, durable remissions for patients with therapy-refractory lymphoma and leukemia.
What are the possible side effects of CAR T-cell therapy?
As is the case with any type of cancer treatment, CAR T-cell therapy does have the potential to cause certain side effects. Most side effects are only temporary and can be managed with treatment. Two of the most common side effects of CAR T-cell therapy, which are almost always temporary, include:
- Neurological difficulties – Common neurological difficulties associated with CAR T-cell therapy include confusion, stupor and difficulty speaking or understanding language.
- Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) – Symptoms of CRS include fever, chills, low blood pressure, confusion and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and are triggered by a massive release of a substance called cytokines.
What does the recovery process entail?
Patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy will need to be monitored closely during the recovery process, which typically lasts around 30 days. During this time, a caregiver must closely watch the patient for signs of infection, fever and neurological changes, all of which can be complications of receiving this form of cancer treatment. Fatigue and loss of appetite are to be expected during the recovery process. Patients recovering from CAR T-cell therapy will be instructed to rest and take things slowly in the weeks following their treatment.
Are there clinical trials being completed on CAR T?
Yes—in addition to the FDA-approved CAR T treatments, there are many clinical trials being run in CAR T-cell therapy. Moffitt Cancer Center has led the development of CAR T clinical trials nationwide, and is a world leader in the application of CAR T therapy clinical trials for the treatment of solid tumors. CAR T therapy has revolutionized the treatment of refractory lymphoma, and Moffitt continues to lead the nation in treatments that utilize tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.
Where can I get CAR T therapy?
Moffitt Cancer Center is one of a select few cancer centers in the nation that is certified to provide CAR T therapy. We provided treatment to the first patient in the world to receive Yescarta after its FDA approval, and we continue to lead in CAR T-cell therapy as a standard of care. In addition to FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy, we offer a number of clinical trials.
If you’d like to learn more about CAR T-cell therapy and if it might be right for you, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form to request an appointment. For more information about clinical trials, call 813-745-6100 or 1-800-679-0775 (toll-free) to speak with a knowledgeable clinical navigator, or submit a clinical trials inquiry form online.