Imagine being able to inoculate yourself against prostate cancer, just as you can be inoculated against the flu. This is what researchers are now aiming for. Right now, there are vaccines in the works for other types of cancer — mostly those caused by viruses — but the prostate cancer vaccine works in a way that’s a bit different.
Vaccines against viral cancers got started because scientists had a pretty good idea of how to create vaccines against other types of viruses. However, the process isn’t perfect. Cervical cancer, for example, which is caused by the human papillomavirus, cannot yet be prevented with a shot, although researchers are working toward a vaccine.
With that kind of vaccine, a small piece of the virus is injected into the body so it can develop antibodies. When the actual virus infects a person’s body, the immune system can fight it off, thus preventing a full-blown cancer-causing infection.
The prostate cancer vaccine works differently than regular vaccines against viruses do. A specific virus or bacteria doesn’t cause prostate cancer, but rather it develops unpredictably. With prostate cancer, the goal of scientists is to create something entirely different; something that can alert the body’s immune system to the minute changes which can be seen in mutating cells.
A virus or bacterium is so different in appearance to normal cells that the body easily identifies it and attacks readily. With cancer, however, the immune system may not be stimulated soon enough, or at all. Cancer cells are basically just normal cells that have undergone a slight change. This change is so minute that the immune system may not notice it. However, it is damaging enough to become lethal.
So, how can scientists create something that can fight off impending tumors? Well, the process is quite complicated, but, basically, it involves injecting shut down cancerous prostate cells into the body. It sounds scary, but these cells have all the stuff that makes them duplicate removed. Thus, the cancer cannot form or spread. Cells from different stages (three, to be exact) are used, so the body is prepped to fight tumors at any stage of development.
The company that is developing the prostate cancer vaccine is called Onyvax. Its researchers are testing it in men who are currently being treated for prostate cancer, but who have not had success with hormone therapies. Hopefully, the vaccine will help slow the tumor’s spread so surgery and other therapies can have a better chance at eradicating the illness. Watch for updates on this exciting development.