New hope with prostate cancer treatment

June 16, 2011 2:27:27 PM PDT
Here is the latest treatment for prostate cancer, one which trains your body to fight the disease.

There's a new weapon to fight cancer, immunotherapy. It's where you train your body and your immune cells to fight off the cancer cells. Although they're making progress in the fight against prostate cancer, it doesn't come cheap.

More than 10 years ago, James Haddad received the same diagnosis. And after surgery, radiation and hormone therapy he hoped he was cured.

So now he's undergoing a new treatment, called provenge. It's a custom made vaccine made from the patient's blood. Here Haddad is going thru the first part where his white blood cells are being pulled out of his blood. Those cells are then sent to the makers of the vaccine. Prostate specific proteins are added to cells to train them to fight the cancer cells. Three days later that vaccine is slowly infused back into the patient.

The time consuming process is repeated every two weeks for a total of three treatments. Often people experience fever, fatigue, nausea, or joint pain while the vaccine is being infused.

When you hear the word vaccine, you think prevention, but for now provenge is only a treatment. But there are studies underway to see if it can one day be a method of prevention.

In the meantime provenge is approved for patients with advanced prostate cancer that's resistant to hormone therapy.

Dr Robert Alter is an oncologist specializing in prostate cancer at Hackensack University Medical Center. He is paid by the makers of provenge to teach other doctors about it.

"We have patients who received this close to a year now who have been free of progression of their disease, who have been off all therapies," Dr. Alter said.

He says it could mean avoiding chemotherapy. Initial studies found that provenge increased survival by about 4 months, although some people may not respond at all. Since it was FDA approved just over a year ago, Dr. Alter says provenge is now more widely available. And medicare and most insurance companies are covering the cost for patients. But critics still question that cost, $93,000 for the full course of treatment.

Meanwhile, the Haddad family is just hoping it works.