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Health Information Under the Microscope: Fighting Prostate Cancer With the Patient's Own Cells

This year, an estimated 240,890 men are expected to join the ranks of the 2 million Americans who have had prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

Now some of them have a new way to fight the disease: Provenge, a vaccine manufactured specifically for each patient using his own immune cells, recently became the first approved therapy in a new class of drugs designed to stimulate the immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells.

A Longer Life

Rush University Medical Center is an official site for use of Provenge, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved last year for the treatment of men with advanced prostate cancer. It offers a new life-prolonging option to patients whose cancer has spread beyond the prostate and has proved resistant to male hormone-deprivation therapy.

Researchers at Rush participated in clinical trials of the therapy, in which patients who received the vaccine had a life expectancy of 22 months, compared to 18 months for those who did not. In addition to prolonging life, clinicians hope, the treatment will also diminish pain and suffering by combating the cancer that causes it. "This treatment vaccine is a great option for patients who have advanced prostate cancer, and where other treatments have not shown much benefit," says Dennis Pessis, MD, a urologist and lead investigator of the study at Rush. "It will hopefully stabilize the patient's condition and increase a patient's quality of life as well as his longevity."

A Shot of Hope

Doctors hope patients with other kinds of cancer might also soon benefit from therapeutic cancer vaccines, which are meant not to prevent disease but to spur the immune system to battle existing tumors. Researchers at Rush and across the country are working to develop such therapies, which have only just begun to have an impact. For example, one vaccine under investigation at Rush recently demonstrated benefit in a phase III clinical trial for patients with metastatic melanoma.

"Cancer researchers have been interested in vaccines for years, but success has been elusive," says Howard Kaufman, MD, director of the Rush University Cancer Center. "Now we have the first-ever approved prostate cancer vaccine, and there are very promising results going on with melanoma vaccines. There have been some remarkable breakthroughs in the past year."
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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