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CAR T Therapy FAQs

CAR T therapy is a novel type of immunotherapy, or cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system 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 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?

leukemia cancer cell being attacked by CAR T-cells
Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a leukemia cancer cell (red) being attacked by CAR T-cells (orange).

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 CAR T therapy breakthrough status for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic 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.

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 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.

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. If you’d like to learn more about this treatment and if it might be right for you, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form to request an appointment.