Immunotherapy for Prostate Cancer

Immunotherapy is a treatment increasingly used to treat prostate cancer. Also known as biological therapy, it works by stimulating the body’s immune system to better identify and attack cancer cells.

There are seven different types of immunotherapy, two of which are used to treat prostate cancer. One is a cancer vaccine called Provenge (sipuleucel-T), and the other is a so-called immune checkpoint inhibitor called Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

This article looks at the use of immunotherapy in the treatment of prostate cancer, including the indications, benefits and risks of Provenge and Keytruda in patients with advanced prostate cancer.

How Immunotherapy Treats Prostate Cancer

Immunotherapy involves the use of drugs to stimulate the body’s own immune system to more effectively recognize and destroy cancer cells. Certain types of immunotherapy can be used to treat prostate cancer in any of the following ways:

  • Boosts the immune system’s natural defenses, making them work harder and smarter to recognize and attack cancer cells
  • Creating substances in the lab that mimic components of the immune system to improve how cancer cells are targeted and destroyed

There are currently seven different classes of immunotherapy used to treat cancer. For prostate cancer, drugs have been developed from two out of seven categories.

cancer vaccine

Cancer vaccines, also known as therapeutic vaccines, are used to treat rather than prevent disease. Vaccines stimulate the immune system to produce cells that are “encoded” to recognize proteins on the surface of cancer cells, called cancer antigens. By doing so, the immune system can launch a more targeted and powerful attack on cancer cells.

A cancer vaccine developed for prostate cancer called Provenge (sipuleucel-T).

immune checkpoint inhibitors

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy that work by “stopping” the body’s immune response to better fight cancer.

One of the main immune cells that help fight cancer is called a T cell. To distinguish cancer cells from normal cells, T cells have a protein called PD-1 that attaches to a protein called PD-L1 on normal cells. The combination of PD-1 and PD-L1 “marks” normal cells so they won’t be harmed during an immune attack.

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The problem is that many cancers, including prostate cancer, also have PD-L1. When PD-1 binds to PD-L1 on cancer cells, it hides them from immune detection.

To overcome this, immune checkpoint inhibitors block PD-1 or PD-L1, allowing the immune system to target and kill cancer cells more efficiently.

The immune checkpoint inhibitor used to treat prostate cancer is called Keytruda (Pembrolizumab). Because it blocks PD-1, Keytruda is also known as a PD-1 inhibitor.


There are two types of immunotherapy used to treat prostate cancer: a cancer vaccine called Provenge that stimulates the production of cells that specifically target prostate cancer cells, and an immune checkpoint inhibitor called Keytruda that blocks protection A protein that protects cancer cells from immune detection.

Provenge (Sipuleucel-T)

Provenge (sipuleucel-T) is a cancer vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. This drug is used to treat advanced prostate cancer when hormone therapy is no longer effective.

Provenge is manufactured in the laboratory in several steps:

  1. First, a person’s blood is run through a machine that collects a type of immune cell called a dendritic cell.The process is called leukapheresis.
  2. The dendritic cells were then exposed to a protein that triggers an immune response specific to prostate cancer.
  3. The treated dendritic cells are then returned to the human body by intravenous (IV) infusion into the bloodstream.

Provenge is given every two weeks for a total of 3 injections.

common side effects

Like all medicines, Provenge can cause side effects. Most tend to be mild to moderate and go away on their own within a few days or weeks.

Some of the more common side effects of Provenge include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • back pain
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
  • fever
  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • constipate

Call your healthcare provider if symptoms persist, worsen, or become severe.

Limitations and Risks

Provenge is specifically for people with prostate cancer transferred (spread) and do not respond to hormone therapy. Most importantly, the person must be asymptomatic (asymptomatic) or have only mild symptoms.

In rare cases, Provenge is known to cause blood clots to form, which can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as:

  • stroke (caused by a blood clot getting stuck in an artery in the heart)
  • heart attack (caused by a blood clot in the heart’s arteries)
  • Pulmonary embolism (caused by a blood clot blocked in the pulmonary artery)

Some people taking Provenge also experience a potentially fatal systemic allergy called allergic reaction.


According to research published by the National Institutes of Health, Provenge may be effective in improving the survival time of patients with advanced prostate cancer.

compared to the person who was given placebo (a “dummy” drug used in the study), people who took Provenge lived slightly longer (25.8 months vs. 21.7 months). Some people live much longer, up to 41 months in some cases.


Provenge is a cancer vaccine for people whose prostate cancer has metastasized (spread) and has not responded to hormone therapy. Studies have shown that Provenge can improve survival times for patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Kerida (pembrolizumab)

Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is a PD-1 inhibitor used to treat many different types of cancer, including prostate cancer.

Keytrude was approved by the FDA in 2017 to treat patients with unresectable (unresectable) or metastatic solid tumor cancer. Prostate cancer is a cancer that is suitable for treatment.

Keytruda is given by intravenous infusion, usually every three weeks or every six weeks.

common side effects

Keytruda is known to cause side effects, the most common of which include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • itching
  • Muscle pain
  • fever
  • cough
  • loss of appetite
  • stomach ache
  • diarrhea
  • constipate

Call your healthcare provider if symptoms persist, get worse, or are severe.

Side Effects of Checkpoint Inhibitors

Limitations and Risks

Keytruda can sometimes cause a severe overreaction of the immune system, triggering inflammation that can affect different organs in the body.

Complications of infusion reactions include:

  • colitis (inflammation of the colon)
  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys)

The risk of infusion reactions can be avoided by delivering the infusion at a slow rate (usually over about 30 minutes).


Some solid tumor cancers responded better to Keytruda than others. Research suggests that Keytruda may help some people with metastatic prostate cancer, but not everyone.

A 2019 study involving 258 patients with metastatic prostate cancer reported that Keytruda either stabilized or caused a small reduction in tumor size. Survival times can vary, but some people treated with Keytruda can live up to 14.1 months. This is about double the reported survival time for untreated people.

Based on the study results, the researchers concluded that Keytruda could benefit a small subset of patients with advanced prostate cancer. Those who did benefit saw their cancer slow down over a considerable period of time.


Keytruda is an immune checkpoint inhibitor used in patients with metastatic prostate cancer who have failed all other treatment options. Keytruda may improve survival in a small subset of patients treated.


Immunotherapy involves the use of drugs that stimulate the immune system to better recognize and attack cancer cells. In recent years, immunotherapies have been developed to help patients with metastatic prostate cancer live longer when other treatment options have been exhausted.

One type of immunotherapy used to treat prostate cancer is a cancer vaccine called Provenge ((sipuleucel-T). It works by taking immune cells from a person’s blood and exposing them to a stimulus to make prostate cancer more powerful and Made of substances that target immune attack. Cells.

The other is an immune checkpoint inhibitor called Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which works by blocking proteins that protect cancer cells from immune detection. Keytruda is used to treat a variety of cancers, including prostate cancer.

Both Provenge and Keytruda are administered by intravenous infusion into a vein.

VigorTip words

The science of immunotherapy is advancing rapidly, and new treatments offer hope for patients with advanced cancers, including prostate cancer.

This includes an immunotherapy drug called Yervoy (ipilimumab), currently approved to treat melanoma, which has shown promise in prostate cancer patients.

If diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, talk with your cancer team about immunotherapy available to you. Clinical trials should also be explored, some of which may give you experimental immunotherapy drugs.