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Prostate Cancer: Vaccine Therapy

A vaccine is a type of medicine that can help boost the immune system. Vaccines are usually given to help protect the body against infections. But there is a cancer vaccine (called sipuleucel-T) that can be used to boost the immune system to help treat prostate cancer. It is used to treat advanced prostate cancer that is no longer reacting to hormone therapy but that is not causing many symptoms. The vaccine does not cure prostate cancer. But it can often help men live longer.

How the vaccine works

This vaccine has to be made especially for each man who gets it. Immune cells are taken from the man's blood and sent to a lab. These immune cells are then exposed to a protein found on prostate cancer cells. At the same time, they are exposed to a chemical to boost the immune response. This helps the immune cells recognize and attack prostate cancer cells. They are then put back into the man’s body, such as into a vein. Once back in the body, these cells help other immune cells attack the prostate cancer.

What to expect for your treatment

This vaccine is given as a series of 3 treatments. There are about 2 weeks between each treatment. Before each treatment, an IV (intravenous) line is put into a vein in your arm. Blood from your vein goes into the IV line. The IV leads to a machine that removes immune cells from your blood. This is done over a few hours. The immune cells are then sent to a lab, where they are treated so they will attack prostate cancer cells. The cells are then sent back to your healthcare provider's office or hospital a few days later. An IV line is put into your arm. The cells are put back into your blood. This is called an infusion. It takes about an hour. 

Side effects of vaccine therapy

Side effects of the vaccine tend to be milder than the side effects from other treatments for advanced prostate cancer, such as hormone therapy and chemotherapy. The side effects from the vaccine often happen around the time of the infusion. They can include:

  • Feeling tired

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Back or joint pain

  • Nausea

  • Problems breathing (rare)

  • High blood pressure (rare)

Most of these will go away soon after treatment.

Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.