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CAR T-Cell Therapy Usage, Cost + Side Effects

There are a lot of reasons why battling cancer is one of the most difficult things a person can do, not least of which is the physical toll some cancer treatments can take on a patient. While there are a number of different treatments used, from targeted bursts of radiation to injections of chemotherapy drugs, one of the newest and most effective methods – and one with the most severe side effects – is called CAR T-cell therapy, which involves the extraction, manipulation, and reintroduction of some of a patient’s cells. While CAR T-cell therapy can be very helpful for treating certain types of cancer, patients also tend to experience some very unpleasant health issues in the days following a treatment. Below, the team at ENU, makers of liquid nutritional supplements for cancer patients, will discuss how this potent treatment works, what it costs, and what side effects can be expected when undergoing therapy.

How CAR T-Cell Therapy is Used

Unlike chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancer cells, or radiation therapy, which uses beams of radiation to destroy cancerous tissue, CAR T-cell therapy belongs to a class of cancer treatments known as immunotherapy, which alters the patient’s immune system to encourage it to attack cancer in the body; more specifically, it is an example of what’s called “adoptive cell” immunotherapy.

In this case, some of a patient’s T-cells – a type of soldier cell used to fight invading bodies – are extracted, then taken to a lab, where they are genetically engineered to develop a special cancer-fighting receptor called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR for short, which is where the therapy gets its name. Finally, the modified cells are cultivated and, once there are enough of them, returned to the patient’s body to begin their work.

Although research into the uses of CAR T-cell therapy is still ongoing, there are three particular types of cancer for which it has already proven effective: childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiply myeloma. While some of these conditions can be addressed through standard chemo or radiation treatments, in many cases, there are some patients for whom they prove ineffective, which is where CAR T-cell therapy comes in. Because its side effects can be severe, even compared to other cancer treatments, CAR T-cell therapy is rarely used as the first treatment option, but safer versions are under development, and the success rate of this kind of therapy is significant.

What Are the Side Effects of CAR T-Cell Therapy?

Before beginning CAR T-cell therapy, patients subjected to a dose of chemotherapy to reduce the number of normal immune cells in the body, then those cells are replaced by a flood of modified T-cells. This chemo treatment can often cause side effects on its own, such as fatigue, but these effects pale in comparison to those related to the CAR T-cell therapy itself.

Overall, the side effects of CAR T-cell therapy can be boiled down to two main issues – cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and encephalopathy – which, though severe, tend to begin dissipating a few days after treatment; we’ll look at each of these conditions below.

Cytokine Release Syndrome

When the modified cells used in CAR T-cell therapy are introduced into the body, they can cause a flood of cytokines – a type of inflammatory molecule – to enter the bloodstream. For some patients, this may feel like an intense bout of the flu, but in severe cases, patients can require the use of a ventilator and other extreme measures.

Managing these side effects can be difficult in the extreme, but some – such as appetite loss – can be addressed at home by adding products like meal replacement shakes designed to provide nutritional support for chemo patients. Others might require intervention with one or more drugs; tocilizumab, a medication approved by the FDA in 2017, has proven effective at addressing the symptoms of CRS.


As bad as the onset of CRS can be for patients, the neurological issues related to CAR T-cell therapy may be worse, even deadly. Patients have experienced symptoms ranging from difficulty speaking or concentrating to seizures or hallucinations. However, a new, refined version of CAR T-cell therapy has shown to cause fewer neurological side effects, so it may prove much safer for patients receiving this type of treatment.

How Much Does CAR T-Cell Therapy Cost?

Like most innovative medical treatments, CAR T-cell therapy can be incredibly expensive, not only because of the price tag the treatment itself carries but also because of the secondary costs involved in managing its side effects.

The base price for one treatment is currently $375,000, but that doesn’t include the expense of, for instance, staying in a hospital room; in total, the cost of treating your cancer with CAR T-cell therapy can be as high as $1 million or more, but as the reputation and scientific evidence behind this treatment have continued to grow, more insurance companies, as well as Medicare, have started covering it, so patients will hopefully not have to bear this huge expense on their own.

Get Support During CAR T-Cell Therapy with Nutritional Shakes from ENU

Although the side effects of cancer treatments like CAR T-cell therapy can make it seem impossible to maintain a healthy diet, it’s important that patients keep up their strength during this difficult time. ENU nutrition shakes and Pro3+ nutritional powder can make it easier to do so by providing balanced energy and nutrition in a convenient, easy-to-tolerate form. Learn more about the benefits of ENU products for cancer patients by visiting us online or calling (855) 266-6733 today.

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