Vaccine, new test hold promise for men with prostate cancer
March 22, 1998
Web posted at: 11:25 p.m. EDT (2325 GMT)
NEWPORT BEACH, California (CNN) -- Prostate cancer is the second leading cancer killer among American men and is expected to cut short more than 39,000 lives this year.
But researchers have come up with two possible advances that could make it easier to track and treat prostate cancer. Details were announced at an American Cancer Society conference this weekend in Newport Beach, California.
The first of those developments is a possible vaccine that uses patients' own cells, grown in their own plasma, to trigger their immune systems to attack cancerous cells in the prostate.
The results of the first multi-year human trials of the procedure show that it may hold special promise for men with a family history of prostate cancer, who often have a higher failure rate when undergoing conventional prostate cancer treatments.
"The remarkable thing is in men with advanced prostate cancer -- who have had successful surgery, radiation, hormone treatment, chemotherapy, the lot -- that some of these individuals have responded for very significant time periods (to the vaccine)," said Dr. Gerald Murphy of the Pacific Northwest Cancer Foundation.
The treatment also has few side effects. While researchers say the results are promising, they want to find out if the vaccine can work earlier in the progression of the disease.
X-rays of prostate glands
The second development reported at the Newport Beach conference is a new genetic test that can provide an earlier warning that cancer cells have spread from the prostate.
If cancer is detected when it is still confined to the prostate gland, it can be cured by removing or irradiating the prostate. To determine if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, doctors now look at nearby lymph nodes under a microscope. Using current techniques, the cancer is found to have spread in about a third of those cases.
The new genetic test looks for a specific string of molecules active in prostate cells. In a study of 33 patients, both the test and microscopic examination found additional cancer in four subjects. But the test found apparently cancerous prostate cells in 23 patients whose microscopic evaluation appeared to be normal.
If the results hold up, researchers say the test might someday be used to determine which prostate cancer patients are most at risk for a relapse and allow them additional treatment that might catch any incipient cancers in an early stage where they are more treatable.
Medical Correspondent Al Hinman contributed to this report.