Promise of new prostate cancer vaccine

July 19, 2010 6:47:44 AM PDT
The first FDA approved prostate cancer vaccine is now available to patients and doctors say it's changing the way people can treat cancer.

"We are not talking about vaccines in the sense of preventing a virus like polio, but we are talking about therapeutic vaccines that treat cancer by revving up the immune system, in some way, to try to fight the cancer," Philip Kantoff, M.D Chief Clinical Research Officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said.

They're not cure-alls, but they could extend the lives of men who were only given a few years.

In three-year study, 30 percent of patients who got the vaccine were alive versus the 17 percent who got a placebo shot.

Doctors diagnosed Bud Dougherty with advanced prostate cancer. He endured surgery and radiation, and then enrolled in a trial testing a new vaccine.

"I want to be a part of something that works and so people will not die at younger ages and can benefit from it," he said.

Side effects can include fevers, chills and nausea. But Dougherty says he's still going strong.

"There is nothing negative, nothing negative. In all cases, it helped me," he said

Although this new vaccine proves to be effective, it comes with a hefty price tag. The manufacturer of the F.D.A approved vaccine is charging $93,000 for the treatment. It's covered by insurance, but doctors worry it could raise out-of-pocket costs for patients. A recent study found nearly 30 percent of cancer patients with $500 or more a year in out-of -pocket costs stopped filling their prescriptions.

A second FDA-approved prostate cancer vaccine is made from a patient's own cells. It improved three-year survival by 38 percent. Doctors say that's a significant benefit for men with advanced prostate cancer that traditionally have less than two years to live.