The immune system is made up of immune cells that circulate the body in the blood; these cells are our body's natural defense system against most diseases, including prostate cancer. Immunotherapy is a treatment that encourages the body's own immune system to fight cancer. One such treatment is Sipuleucel-T, an FDA approved cancer vaccine. Unlike traditional vaccines, which promote the development of immunity by imitating an infection, this vaccine transforms the patient's own cells to specifically recognize and attack prostate cancer cells. This process involves filtering out the white blood cells from a blood sample, stimulating them to fight prostate cancer in a lab, and then giving those cells back to the patient via an IV infusion. This process is repeated every two weeks for three treatments. The goal is to stimulate the patient's immune system to fight the cancer cells.
Immunotherapy does not lower PSA, treat symptoms, or delay disease progression. However, this treatment has been shown to prolong life. This treatment is often for individuals with prostate cancer that has spread outside of the prostate and is resistant to standard hormone treatment.
The side effects of sipuleucel-T are usually limited to the few days following an infusion of the stimulated cells. Patients may sometimes experience flu-like symptoms with fever, chills, nausea, and bone and muscle aches. These symptoms generally resolve within three days and can be treated with acetaminophen.