Prostate Cancer Vaccine On Its Way?

Researchers have discovered a potential breakthrough in combating prostate cancer -- a vaccine so innovative that it may change the future of cancer treatment.

A vaccine named Provenge may get Food and Drug Administration approval as early as this week. The drug showed promise in prolonging life for men battling a deadly cancer that affects over 200,000 men a year and kills about 27,000.

CBS Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton shared details about the test with "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith.

According to Ashton, the study looked at over 500 men with an advanced form of prostate cancer. Half of them were treated with a placebo, the other half treated with this vaccine.

"Those treated with the vaccine had what was found to be a significantly increased life expectancy or survival," she explained. "However, that was four months. So it took them average from 22 months survival to 26 months survival."

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This vaccine is not a typical preventative vaccine, like the cervical cancer vaccine; instead, it treats patients with an advanced form of prostate cancer.

Ashton says this form of treatment is different and "uses the patient's own blood cells to trick the tumor cells in to stimulating the body's own immune system to attack that tumor."

She said these are personalized vaccines, so it's not one size or one-size fits all. She said that makes the tumor more complicated and expensive to make, but the patient will reap the benefits in treatment.

"The idea is that it will only destroy the tumor and not spread the widespread toxicity and harm that other things like chemotherapy and radiation can do."

The personalized vaccine comes with a hefty price tag. It ranges from $50,000 to $75,000.

When it comes to treating cancer, there is always risk versus benefit to consider. Traditionally, prostate cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy -- all which have major risks.

"At this point, the risks to this vaccine seem to be that the vaccine just doesn't work," she said. "So the risk profile seems to be more advantageous than the other traditional forms of therapy.

"But we have to remember prostate cancer very similar to other cancers, not all prostate cancer needs treatment. Some are so slow-growing that the treatments actually will kill you faster than the disease itself."

Oftentimes, patients who are 70 or older and are in the advanced stages of prostate cancer, the doctor says whatever we do will be worse than you just letting it run its course, Smith points out. But for younger men who have an advanced form of prostate cancer the vaccine could really make a difference.

So, does this complicate or does it make easier for a patient to choose a course of action?

"I think in some sense this does cloud the waters," Ashton said. "The exciting thing about this vaccine, is this is thought to be by many cancer experts as the future in cancer treatment. Personalized treatment and therapy that targets only the tumor, and not the rest of the body. So we're going to have to wait and see."