Sipuleucel-T (Provenge) is a cancer vaccine. Unlike traditional vaccines, which boost the body’s immune system to help prevent infections, this vaccine boosts the immune system to help it attack prostate cancer cells.
The vaccine is used to treat advanced prostate cancer that is no longer responding to initial hormone therapy but that is causing few or no symptoms.
This vaccine is made specifically for each man. To make it, white blood cells (cells of the immune system) are removed from your blood over a few hours while you are hooked up to a special machine. The cells are then sent to a lab, where they are exposed to a protein from prostate cancer cells called prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP). The cells are then sent back to the doctor’s office or hospital, where they are given back to you by infusion into a vein (IV). This process is repeated 2 more times, 2 weeks apart, so that you get 3 doses of cells. The cells help your other immune system cells attack the prostate cancer.
The vaccine hasn’t been shown to stop prostate cancer from growing, but it seems to help men live an average of several months longer. As with hormone therapy and chemotherapy, this type of treatment has not been shown to cure prostate cancer.
Studies are now being done to see if this vaccine can help men with less advanced prostate cancer.
Possible side effects of vaccine treatment
Side effects from the vaccine tend to be milder than those from hormone therapy or chemotherapy. Common side effects can include fever, chills, fatigue, back and joint pain, nausea, and headache. These most often start during the cell infusions and last no more than a couple of days. A few men may have more severe symptoms, including problems breathing and high blood pressure, which usually get better after treatment.