New study could bring hope to men who don't respond well to hormone therapy for prostate cancer

A new study at UC Medical Center could bring hope to men who don't respond well to hormone therapy for prostate cancer.

More than 1 million American have prostate cancer, the leading non-skin cancer in men in the United States. Last year alone some 220,000 new prostate cancer cases were reported, and 28,900 men died of it.

The UC study, headed by R. Bruce Bracken, MD, professor of surgery in the Division of Urology, is testing the effectiveness of a new, experimental vaccine called Provenge, designed to trigger a patient's own immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells. The year-long trial will determine whether the vaccine slows the progression of prostate cancer and the development of disease-related pain.

Study participants all have an advanced condition known as "androgen-independent" prostate cancer, meaning their male hormone (androgen) levels have been depressed by earlier, but unsuccessful hormone therapy.

Depending on the seriousness of the condition, standard treatments for prostate cancer include surgery, radiation, and hormone and chemotherapy.

A relatively new approach, vaccines are used when localized treatment, such as radiation seeding, fails. The results of the UC study could help determine whether Provenge receives Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for general use.

To participate in the study, men must have prostate cancer that has "metastasized," or spread, during hormone therapy. They must also have a Gleason score, the standard measure of the seriousness of prostate cancer, of 7 or lower and have no current cancer-related pain.

The safety and effectiveness of Provenge, Dr. Bracken points out, are not yet fully established. It might not benefit the patient and could also cause severe or even life-threatening side effects.

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