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What Is T-Cell Immunotherapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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T-cell immunotherapy uses cells from a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Medical professionals harvest T-cells, activate them, culture them to produce large numbers, and re-infuse them into the patient as part of treatment. The cells lock on to antigens found on the surface of the cancer and destroy cells expressing those antigens. This process is a topic of research and development in a number of settings to find new ways of treating cancer and increasing available options for patients.

If a patient is a good candidate for T-cell immunotherapy, cells can be harvested in a routine procedure and then activated, taught to recognize the antigens in question so they will identify cancer cells as foreign to the body. Once activated, they can be grown in large numbers to create an infusion for the patient. This introduces vigorous T-cells back into the patient’s body to attack the cancer. They can continue replicating to ensure that the cancerous cells are eradicated.

This is an example of an autograft, where tissue from the patient’s own body is used in medical treatment. Because T-cell immunotherapy involves modifications to the cells outside the body, however, there is a risk of an infusion reaction. The patient’s body may reject the modified cells or impurities in the culture could cause problems during the infusion. Careful controls in the lab used for activating and culturing the cells limit the risk of complications, but patients are also monitored carefully throughout treatment for signs of a bad reaction.

One of the advantages of T-cell immunotherapy is that it can cause fewer side effects than other cancer therapies. It involves giving a boost to the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer, rather than introducing a harsh medication. Many cancer medications are toxic to healthy as well as damaged cells, which causes side effects like nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. Treatments that target specific cells and leave others alone can be valuable for improving the experience for cancer patients.

Patients with an interest in this treatment option can ask about its availability and discuss whether it might be appropriate. Some forms may only be open in clinical trial form, where patients take experimental treatments to contribute to research. If a patient is eligible for a T-cell immunotherapy clinical trial, the doctor can provide more information about how to enroll. Treatments and associated procedures may be provided free of charge, and patients will have access to therapies that are not yet available on the open market.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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