How does immunotherapy treat prostate cancer?

To treat prostate cancer with immunotherapy, physicians stimulate your own immune system to identify and destroy cancer cells on its own without destroying healthy tissue. Cancer vaccines use your own cells to trigger an immune system attack on the cancerous prostate cells.

Sipuleucel-T was approved by the FDA for the treatment of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, meaning those in whom initial hormone treatments have stopped working. It is intended for use in men who have no or few symptoms from cancer. It is not completely clear how it works, but because it was associated with a longer survival compared to a control group, it was approved for use. The way it works is that your own white blood cells are filtered out, sent to a laboratory for processing whereby a prostate cancer specific-protein is pushed into the white cells, and then the mixture is re-infused into the patient a few days later. This is repeated 3 times over 5 weeks and then the treatment is done.

The idea is that this process makes your own white blood cells "smarter" by giving them a target to attack. The target is a protein that is on the surface of the cancer cells but not on normal cells. By boosting this immune signal, it can specifically kill cancer cells. 

Another approach to immunotherapy involves using drugs or vaccines, which may increase recognition of cancer in the body directly, without having to remove white cells. Several drugs that work this way are in late phase clinical trials.

Immunotherapy (also called biological therapy) is a promising treatment for prostate cancer, including advanced or recurrent forms of the disease. Your care team uses a variety of immune-based strategies to eliminate a prostate cancer tumor and prevent its recurrence.

Cancer may develop when the immune system breaks down or is not functioning adequately. Immunotherapy is designed to repair, stimulate or enhance your body's own immune responses. It may be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, such as radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
Immunotherapy for prostate cancer, or any cancer, uses the immune system of the patient to help treat the cancer.  For example,  immunotherapy can halt or suppress the processes that allow cancer growth, it can help the immune system identify cancer cells and it can promote the body's natural ability to repair or replace cells that have been damaged by cancer treatments. There are many different ways to stimulate the immune system, but specifically to prostate cancer it is a therapy called Sipuleucel-T, also known as Provenge.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.