The US government has given its nod to the world’s first cancer vaccine that treats prostate cancer after it has been diagnosed, helping the patient live a little longer.
Prostate cancer develops in a gland in the male reproductive system, from where it can spread to the bones and lymph nodes. It affects men after 50 years of age and is the second most common cancer after skin in the United States.
In India, it ranks fourth after cancers of the head and neck, lungs and gastrointestinal tracts.
Unlike standard vaccines — such as those for cervical cancer, measles or polio — given to healthy people to prevent disease, the new vaccine makes a patient’s immune system treat cancer by attacking the tumour.
While Dendreon Corporation’s new therapy — called Provenge — has shown small benefits, it has generated huge interest because it provides a new method to treat cancers.
“This vaccine proves that immunotherapy works in treating cancer, which offers hope to all cancer patients. Scientists are now working on similar vaccines for cancers of the breast, lung, skin and lymph nodes,” said Dr V.M. Katoch, secretary, department of health research, Ministry of Health.
“Currently, prostate cancer is treated conventionally using radiation, surgery to remove the gland, drugs to reduce levels of the hormone testosterone that feeds the tumours, and lastly, the chemotherapy drug Taxotere, which extends the lives of patients by two months,” said Dr Sameer Kaul, senior surgical oncologist, Apollo Hospitals.
Experts say that Provenge may even be used before Taxotere because it has fewer side effects.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research that tracks cancers in the country, there are 50 lakh cancer cases at any given time, with 8 lakh new cancers and 5.5 lakh cancer deaths occurring each year.