Summary of Immune System, Unleashed by Cancer Therapies, Can Attack Organs

The New York Times,

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Immune System, Unleashed by Cancer Therapies, Can Attack Organs summary
Immunotherapy is a new, often successful cancer treatment, but its unpredictable side effects can be severe. Is it worth it?


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In the medical research field, the mission to cure cancer remains strong. One of the newer cancer treatments – immunotherapy – prompts the immune system to attack cancer cells. Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Matt Richtel elegantly writes about the state of immunotherapy cancer treatments as he balances scientific, technical aspects with personal stories of two cancer patients that keep the lay reader tuned into the medical issue and the question at the heart of the article: Are the risks of immunotherapy worth it? getAbstract recommends Richtel’s analysis to medical professionals and readers interested in medical breakthroughs.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How immunotherapy harnesses patients’ immune systems to fight cancer,
  • What risks the new treatment entails, and
  • Why experts recommend more research into the treatment’s toxicology.


Cancer patient Chuck Peal had melanoma that had metastasized to his lungs when he sought treatment from Yale oncologist Harriet Kluger. The diagnosis would have been beyond hope using traditional treatments. But Kluger presented Peal with the option of immunotherapy, a method that prompts the immune system to attack cancer cells rapidly. Immunotherapy resolved two of his melanoma lesions and shrunk two others. However, weeks later Peal began experiencing severe side effects: His pancreas failed, his kidneys stopped working, his bowels inflamed and he had a 103°F [39.4°C] fever. His immune system – let loose on the cancer – had turned on his body.

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About the Author

New York Times reporter Matt Richtel received the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2010. He writes about science, technology and business and is the author of A Deadly Wandering and The Doomsday Equation.

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