Doctors prescribe photopheresis to help cancer patients fight transplant rejection

Process exposes white blood cells to UV rays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Cancer patient Carol Grant-Hunter is winning her battle with leukemia, with the help of an unusual treatment.

Grant-Hunter received a blood marrow transplant from her sister, but the newly donated stem cells were attacking her body. It's a complication of transplantation that can occur.

So she's undergoing photopheresis to help her body to accept the donor cells. The treatment involves exposing a patient to ultra-violet rays.

Grant-Hunter knows it's time for a treatment when she starts feeling sluggish.

"While you're having it, it just feels like a gentle current going through you. Kind of like if you do tai chi and that energy flowing through you. And then afterwards you're a little tired, but in a couple of hours you recuperate and feel a lot better than when you came in," she explained.

The treatment works by having a patient's blood pumped out and through a machine that exposes white blood cells to UV rays. Once those cells are returned to the body, they change how the patient responds to cancer or an organ transplant.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Sunil Abhyankar said photopheresis lessens the amount of medicines a patient must take.

"One of the advantages of photopheresis is that we can decrease the doses of other immuno-suppressant drugs that a patient is on. The drugs like prednisone have a lot of side effects, whereas photophersis doesn't have hardly any side effects," Abhyankar said.

While Abhyankar added photopheresis isn't for everyone, it can help lung transplant patients & some skin cancer patients.

Editors Note: Story updated to correct the name of oncologist Dr. Sunil Abhyankar

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