Avera Medical Minute: Using your immune system to fight cancer

Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 9:28 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - If you or a loved one has ever received a cancer diagnosis, you likely wondered what your options were.

One tool in the toolbox that some patients are able to try is CAR T-cell therapy, which uses your immune system to fight cancer.

One man shares how this treatment has made an impact in his cancer journey.

Avera patient Doug Pranger travels to Sioux Falls about every month to get an infusion to help boost his immune system after being diagnosed with cancer.

He was originally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s mantle cell lymphoma back in 2010.

“I had a stem cell transplant, spent over the whole time, about 60 days of hospitalization, but we were able to use my own stem cells, which made it very easy, and we put them back in and fixed the problem for a while,” said Pranger.

Until October of last year — that’s when his cancer came back.

“Really didn’t feel any different. We caught it in a routine checkup with a bone marrow biopsy,” said Pranger.

Dr. Xavier Andrade-Gonzalez with Avera Medical Group has worked with Doug throughout his cancer journey. It was his idea for Doug to try CAR T-cell therapy.

“CAR T-cell therapy stands for chimeric antigen receptor therapy. What that means is we are using the person’s immune system to attack cancer, so the way this is done is we take the person’s immune cells out, and we take them into the lab, and we train them to recognize the cancer proteins and then infuse them back,” said Dr. Andrade-Gonzalez. “Once they are infused back and they are trained, they can better recognize cancer cells inside the body. They can attack them more efficiently.”

It’s a technology that’s been an option for cancer patients for a few years now. Dr. Andrade-Gonzalez encourages people to see if this is a treatment that will work for them.

“I’m just thrilled about the team of doctors and nurses and pharmacists that make up our team of CAR T-cell therapy. I really encourage patients to talk with their doctors about it if that’s available to them,” said Dr. Andrade-Gonzalez.

Doug did have a few setbacks after the treatment, including a stay in the ICU and physical rehab, but he is now doing much better, and he’s able to get back to working on his farm and spending time with family.

“I’ve had two bone marrow biopsies since then, and I’m 100% clear and clean and in remission,” said Pranger.

“It just makes my day. It just makes my profession worth it, especially Doug — he’s always had this great mindset of ‘Let’s get this done, let’s get this taken care of,’” said Dr. Andrade-Gonzalez.

Doug is thankful for support from family, friends, and his community during his cancer journey.

“What more can I say than they were there every minute,” said Pranger.

Dr. Andrade-Gonzalez says this treatment is standard of care, but there are also clinical trials available that use CAR T-cell therapy.

For more information, visit avera.org/medicalminute.