New treatment helps cancer patient find success



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A growing treatment is finding success in the fight against cancer. Doctors say it helps a patient's own immune cells recognize and attack the disease. The procedure made all the difference for a Utah man.

Rodney Henderson found solace on his rooftop garden.

"It feels great because for months like I said, I couldn't even get out of a chair," said Henderson, who lives in Salt Lake City.

Henderson was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Alice Ann Henderson, Rodney's wife, said, "Cancer, you know, even the word was pretty scary."

After surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer returned.

He began CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment where immune system cells are extracted from the patient and re-engineered in a lab with a chimeric antigen receptor or CAR, a cancer-fighting agent.

"It's like sending your cells off to school," said Dr. Brad Hunter, Oncologist, Director of Immune Effector Cell Therapy, Intermountain Healthcare.

Dr. Hunter said the therapy suppresses the immune system — killing some of the normal immune cells, which they expect will come back over time.

"We take a virus and we hollow it out so it can't be infectious," Dr. Hunter said. "It just becomes like a bus and we put inside that virus all the DNA that we need to tell the cell how to make an antennae, to recognize the cancer."

The therapy is a one-time infusion.

Dr. Hunter said generally 70-80% of patients will respond to some degree to CAR T-cell therapy. He said that 50-55% will have total eradication of their cancer.

At LDS Hospital, he said 79% of patients are showing disease improvement, and 64% don't show any sign of the disease post-treatment.

Henderson is now cancer-free and back to the active life he loves.

Five years ago, he walked 500 miles across northern Spain. This spring, he's going back.

"It's the miracle of being cancer-free," Henderson said. "They literally saved my life."

Doctors say most patients tolerate this therapy better than chemotherapy.

Side effects can include fever, fast heart rate, low blood pressure and low blood oxygen, but can be treated with a medication. These side effects, including a weakened immune system, are generally reversible.

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Heather Simonsen

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