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About CAR T Cell Therapy

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Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy is an immunotherapy. It uses a patient’s own immune system to fight certain blood cancers. Normal T cells can “hook” onto cancer cells and kill them, but cancer cells can change so the hooks no longer work.

In CAR T cell therapy, doctors take T cells from the patient’s blood and add a new hook, called a CAR, designed to hook onto the changed cancer cells. These are called CAR T cells. The patient gets the CAR T cells back through an IV. The CAR T cells find, attack, and kill the cancer cells in the patient’s body.

Huntsman Cancer Institute is one of only a handful of hospitals in the United States authorized to offer the two CAR T cell therapies currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

To learn more about CAR T cell therapy, call our referral center at 801-587-4652.

Image of CAR T Cell Therapy Process

Image of CAR T Cell Therapy Process

Frequently Asked Questions

What is CAR T cell therapy?

CAR T cell therapy is a treatment for some types of leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. T cells are part of the immune system that “hook” onto cancer cells and kill them. In CAR T cell therapy, doctors take T cells from the patient’s blood and add a new “hook” called a CAR. Together, these are called CAR T cells. The patient gets the CAR T cells back through an IV. The CAR T cells find, attack, and kill the cancer cells in the patient’s body.

Who is eligible to receive CAR T cell therapy?

Currently, CAR T cell therapy is FDA approved as standard of care for some forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a type of leukemia. These include acute lymphoblastic leukemia (only available for patients up to age 26), and certain types of large B-cell lymphoma.

Will my insurance cover CAR T cell therapy?

Health insurers are still deciding on their coverage policies for CAR T cell therapy. In the meantime, they review coverage on a case-by-case basis. This is usual when new therapies are first approved. Billing and financial services staff will work with patients and insurers to seek health insurance coverage for patients who need CAR T cell therapy.

What are the possible side effects of CAR T Cell therapy?

CAR T cell therapy can have serious side effects. Your care team will watch for them. It’s important that you and your caregivers know the signs of these side effects. Treating the side effects early can help you recover.

  • Cytokine Release Syndrome: Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) is the most common side effect of CAR T therapy. It can happen 1 day to 30 days after your CAR T infusion. CRS may go away quickly or last weeks. You may need to return to the hospital.
  • Infections: Severe or life-threatening infections can happen after CAR T cell therapy.
  • Mental Changes: CAR T cells can cause temporary changes in the brain. This can happen days to weeks after your infusion. The changes may last for days or weeks. They usually go away on their own with no long-term problems. Your care team may give you medicine to help.
  • Graft-versus-Host Disease: If you had an allogeneic stem cell transplant and get CAR T cells from your donor, you have a risk to get graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). GVHD can affect your skin, liver, and gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

What is the treatment process like for patients?

If CAR T cell treatment is right for you, your care team collects your T cells with a process called apheresis. Your blood goes through a machine that separates and collects your T cells. The rest of the blood goes back into your body.

We send your collected T cells to a lab where CAR “hooks” are attached to them. This turns them into CAR T cells.

Before you get your CAR T cells back, you will get chemotherapy to prepare your body for treatment.

When your CAR T cells come from the lab, we put them back in your body by infusion into a vein. This happens in the hospital.

Graphic showing blood going from patient to machine where T cells are collected and the rest of the blood goes back to the patient

What is the recovery process like?

After your infusion of CAR T cells, you will stay in the hospital for up to two weeks. If your symptoms are severe, you may need to stay in our cancer intensive cancer care unit. After you leave the hospital, you must plan to stay within 40 miles, or sixty minutes, of Huntsman Cancer Institute for 30 days. This allows your care team to watch for any side effects of the treatment and help you with them.

What if I’m not local, and I’m receiving CAR T cell therapy treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute?

Huntsman Cancer Institute offers housing nearby for patients and families who are receiving cancer treatment and care. Guests may consider resources including University of Utah Patient and Family Housing or the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.

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