I've heard there is a prostate cancer vaccine? Is that true and where can I get it?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

Yes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a prostate cancer vaccine for use in men with prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body and who have already tried hormone therapy. The prostate cancer vaccine, called sipuleucel-T (Provenge), is currently available at a limited number of specialized medical centers.

Researchers are studying other prostate cancer vaccines in clinical trials. These other prostate cancer vaccines that are being studied haven't been approved by the FDA and are available only to the men participating in those trials.

In contrast to vaccines that are intended to target viruses — such as polio or influenza — and are designed to prevent a disease in otherwise healthy individuals, the prostate cancer vaccines are therapeutic vaccines. They're designed to be given to men who already have prostate cancer to treat the cancer.

Prostate cancer vaccines help the body's immune system to recognize prostate cancer cells and to attack and destroy them. The vaccines use a number of mechanisms to do this.

For example, treatment with Provenge involves removing a certain type of immune system cell from a sample of your blood. In a laboratory, your immune system cells are exposed to a substance that's commonly found in prostate cancer cells. This laboratory process trains your immune system cells to recognize the substance as an enemy. These immune system cells are then put back into your body, where they get other immune system cells to help attack the prostate cancer cells.

There's also some evidence that these vaccines have minimal side effects, compared with other cancer treatments.

Talk with your doctor about whether a prostate cancer vaccine may be appropriate for you. One prostate cancer vaccine is approved for use and others are available only in clinical trials. Ask your doctor whether you may be eligible for a clinical trial. You can also find out more about cancer clinical trials by going to the National Cancer Institute's Clinical Trials Web page.

May. 01, 2010 See more Expert Answers