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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's a cancer vaccine (called sipuleucel-T) that can be used to boost the immune system to help it attack prostate cancer.

This vaccine is used to treat advanced prostate cancer that's no longer reacting to hormone therapy but isn't causing many symptoms. The vaccine does not cure prostate cancer. It won't lower PSA levels. But it can help someone with prostate cancer live longer.

How the vaccine works

This vaccine has to be made especially for each person receiving it. Immune cells (white blood cells) are taken from the person's blood and sent to a lab. These immune cells are then exposed to a protein found on prostate cancer cells (called prostatic acid phosphatase or PAP). At the same time, they are exposed to a chemical to boost the immune response to PAP. This helps the immune cells recognize and attack prostate cancer cells. They're then put back into the man’s body as an infusion. This means the cells are put right into the blood through a vein. Once back in the body, these cells help other immune cells attack the prostate cancer.

What to expect for your treatment

Immune cells must be collected from your blood to make your vaccine. To do this, an IV (intravenous) line is put into a vein in your arm. A machine pulls your blood out of your arm and takes out and saves the immune cells. The rest of your blood is returned to your body. This is done over a few hours. (This process is called leukapheresis.)

Your immune cells are then sent to a lab, where they're treated so they'll attack prostate cancer cells. The vaccine will be sent to your healthcare provider's office or hospital a few days later.

You'll get your vaccine as a series of 3 treatments, with about 2 weeks between each treatment. Before each treatment, an IV line is put into your hand or arm. The cells are in a bag. Tubing will be attached to the bag and your IV to put the cells back into your blood. This is called an infusion. It takes about an hour. You'll stay for about 30 minutes afterward to be watched for treatment reactions.

Side effects of vaccine therapy

During leukapheresis, when your immune cells are taken out of your blood, you might notice:

  • Chills

  • Tiredness

  • Slight tingling in your hands or feet

These go away when the process ends.

The vaccine is made from your cells but can still cause side effects. They often happen around the time of the infusion and can include:

  • Feeling tired

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Back or joint pain

  • Nausea

  • Problems breathing (rare)

  • High blood pressure, chest pain, heart rhythm changes (rare)

Most of these will go away a few days after treatment. Your treatment team will talk with you about what you should watch for and when you need to call them. Be sure you know what number to call to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2021
© 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.