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Why the Prostate Cancer Vaccine Is So Important

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Updated September 28, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The much-touted prostate cancer vaccine, also known by its trade name Provenge, now has approval from the FDA for sale in the United States. Many doctors believe that this treatment represents a big step forward for prostate cancer therapy.

Why Is the Prostate Cancer Vaccine So Important?

The prostate cancer vaccine is the first vaccine treatment for any cancer that directly activates the body's immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells.

No prior treatments for prostate cancer (or any other cancer) have been shown to successfully work in this way.

The prostate cancer vaccine works by putting the body's naturally-present white blood cells into action attacking only cells that carry proteins specific to cancerous cells. In other words, the vaccine reprograms white blood cells to attack prostate cancer cells (but not other, healthy cells).

What Might This Mean for Future Cancer Treatments?

While immunotherapy (using the body's immune system to treat cancer or other diseases) has long been a field of great interest among cancer researchers, the apparent success of the prostate cancer vaccine has reinvigorated scientific activity in this area.

A great deal of excitement amongst cancer researchers surrounds the possibility of developing other treatments similar to Provenge (for prostate cancer as well as other types of cancer) that make use of the body's natural defenses to eliminate cancer.

Sources:

Integrated data from 2 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 3 trials of active cellular immunotherapy with sipuleucel-T in advanced prostate cancer. Higano CS, Schellhammer PF, Small EJ, et al. Cancer. 2009 Aug 15;115(16):3670-9.

Kumar, Robbins, and Cotran: Pathologic Basis of Disease, 7th ed. 2005.

FDA Press Release April 29, 2010

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