There are countless vaccines for a wide variety of conditions, but they all have one thing in common: they're used to boost the immune system in order to naturally fight against disease. The National Cancer Institute has been studying vaccines for cancer, which they label under "biological response modifiers", and they classify them into two broad categoriesi:
- Preventive (prophylactic) Vaccines. To prevent cancer.
- Treatment (therapeutic) Vaccines. To strengthen natural defenses in the body to treat cancer.
Clinical trials are underway to study preventive vaccines for prostate cancer patients. There is currently one treatment vaccine available. ProvengeŽ is an FDA approved vaccine that helps to fight advanced prostate cancer in patients who haven't responded to hormone therapy. While this is not seen as a cure, it is a positive step toward treating the disease in patients who don't have many options. There are a few reported side effects to ProvengeŽ, such as fever, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and aching joints; however, these effects typically disappear in a few days.
An article in The Boston Globe reported on "therapeutic vaccines" that help to transform a cancer patient's immune system into a cancer-fighting machine while decreasing the chance of recurrence. Research is still on-going; however, the FDA saw enough promise in ProvengeŽ to approve its use as a vaccine for prostate cancer after it was proven to "safely extend the lives of advanced prostate cancer patients for an average of 4.1 months"ii.
According to the American Cancer Society, to make the vaccine, white blood cells are taken from the patient and sent to a lab and exposed to proteins in prostate cancer cells. About three days later, the cells are administered back into the patient through a procedure similar to a blood transfusion. This process is repeated three times every two weeksiii.
Like every prostate cancer treatment, vaccines may not be the best option for all patients. Those in late stages of cancer may benefit the most from the vaccine, but the survival rate is still limited. However, this new discovery is a step in the right direction to finding a cure.