How We Care for Immunotherapy Patients

If you receive immunotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering, you’ll benefit from the extensive expertise of our medical staff. The doctors, nurses, and other members of your care team are highly experienced in administering immunotherapy treatments and helping you minimize or avoid side effects.

Patients Receiving Immune Checkpoint Blockade Therapy

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are given through a vein in your arm (intravenously). The treatment period usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes; the number of sessions may vary depending on your cancer and the drug you’re being given.

If you’re receiving ipilimumab (Yervoy®), you’ll probably receive treatment at our Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion once every three weeks for a total of four treatments. If you’re receiving pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) or nivolumab (Opdivo®), you’ll likely come for treatment every other week for a longer period — sometimes up to a year or more. Before each session, you’ll first meet with your medical oncologist or nurse practitioner before proceeding to the infusion suite to receive the drug.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are generally less toxic and easier to take than most chemotherapy drugs. Unlike some chemotherapies, these immunotherapy drugs do not require you to have a port — a round metal or plastic disk that is used as the entry site for the IV medications — surgically implanted in your body. Immune checkpoint drugs also don’t involve pretreatment preparation, such as hydration, that chemotherapy drugs sometimes require.

Our doctors and nurses are experts in caring for the complex needs of patients undergoing outpatient immunotherapy treatment. If you experience any side effects from immunotherapy drugs, our medical care specialists are highly trained to help you manage them.

Patients Receiving CAR T Cell Therapy

If you have leukemia, you may be eligible to receive a new type of therapy called CAR T cell therapy. We usually only recommend CAR T cell therapy if chemotherapy has not been sufficiently effective and the disease has returned or if you’ve developed resistance to your initial treatment.

CAR T cell therapy involves several steps. First, your blood will be run through a specialized machine that extracts T cells and returns the rest of the blood to your body. This process is painless — similar to donating blood — but takes several hours.

After the T cells have been collected, you’ll receive what is called “salvage” chemotherapy to bring the disease temporarily under control. You’ll remain in the hospital during this period, usually for several weeks, while the T cells that were removed from you are genetically modified to recognize the cancer cells and then expanded in number to be effective against the disease.

The modified T cells are then infused back into your body (usually done over a two-day period for 45 minutes a day). After the infusion, our doctors will monitor you closely in the following days for side effects and to ensure that your condition is stable before discharging you to go home.

Once your cancer is in remission, we may recommend that you have a stem cell transplant (also called a bone marrow transplant), depending on your condition. In a stem cell transplant, blood-forming stem cells are replaced by infusing new ones into your bloodstream. The aim of the transplant is to cure your disease, and we’re able to achieve excellent results for our patients.