Pros and cons of Provenge

January 17, 2012 2:55:14 PM PST
A revolutionary cancer treatment can save your life, but is it worth it?

Four months. It may not seem like a long time to many people, but for those with cancer, it's 120 days they might not have.

However, some people who've gone through the process have mixed emotions about it.

Ray Schmidlin and Robert Obin are two men with prostate cancer who know the disease will kill them.

They've both been treated with Provenge, a therapeutic vaccine using their own blood to slow down the cancer. Certain cells are harvested, altered and infused back into the body to help the immune system attack the cancer.

Studies show it can improve a patient's median survival rate by four months, and it reduced patient's risk of death by 22-and-a-half percent. Robert believes it's the reason he's still around.

"It's not going to cure me, but that will help me to give me, I don't know, more days?" Obin said.

Ray says the immunotherapy took a toll on him. The active grandfather tells us he was strapped down for several hours at a time during six weeks of treatment.

"And that was pretty stressful. Because you couldn't, you couldn't move," Schmidlin said.

He's not sure the discomfort and confinement was worth it.

"If I'm going to live 60 months, I don't want to spend the money and the time to live 64 months," Schmidlin said.

"I think it's a controversial topic," says Dr. Jorge Garcia, director of the Advanced Prostate Cancer Program at Cleveland Clinic.

Ray's physician says there are misconceptions about Provenge.

"The patient automatically believes if I get the treatment, I'm going to live four months more, and that's inaccurate," Garcia said.

He says some live longer but some don't make it to four months. And it's not for all prostate cancer patients. It's designed for those who show few or no symptoms, but have a form of the disease that has spread and is resistant to hormonal therapy. Garcia says it doesn't lower p-s-a levels, shrink tumors, or reduce symptoms like bone pain.

"But yet, you're likely to live longer," Garcia said.

While the doctor believes Provenge is a breakthrough, he says it's important patients like Ray and Robert know it may or may not be the right option for them.

Provenge costs 93-thousand dollars. It's now covered by Medicare. But, the time it takes for the treatment seems to be driving some doctors and patients away. Recent reports show Zytiga, a newly approved pill for advanced prostate cancer has also been shown to prolong life by four months in clinical trials, is gaining in popularity. It costs five-thousand dollars a month and usually takes eight months to complete the drug cycle.

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