The FDA is on the edge to approve a revolutionary cancer vaccine that stimulates the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells which could lengthen the life of prostate cancer patients. Men with advanced prostate cancer who took Provenge lived 4½ months longer, according to early clinical trials. Some men gained an extra two or three years of life after the treatment, and the only side effects were mild flu-like symptoms. Doctors remove patients’ own white blood cells, treat them so they respond aggressively to cancerous tumors, and then put the treated cells back into the patients’ blood. The treated cancer cells then look for and destroy cancer cells, while other cells would remain untouched. Although this represents a major shift in the fight against cancer, the mainstays of cancer treatment remain the same: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Provenge is not a cure, nor would it replace traditional treatments. But it would be another option. The drug won’t come cheap. Reports say one course of Provenge treatment may cost as much as $75,000.
In 2006, 203,415 men developed prostate cancer, and 28,372 of them died from the disease, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The science behind the vaccine could also have applications for other kinds of cancers.