Health Check: Anal cancer vaccine

It's only been a few months since Michael Grando was diagnosed with anal cancer.

"Symptoms are bleeding and pain," he said.

Often people, like Grando, dismiss the symptoms as hemorrhoids. But then he noticed it was getting worse and not better.

Grando's cancer was advanced. So he underwent chemo and radiation therapies plus surgery.

"The nice thing about anal cancer is even when they're in the later stages, they still are very amenable to treatment," said Dr. Matthew Vrees of The Miriam Hospital.

The cure rate is anywhere between 50 and 80 percent depending how advanced the cancer is. And it can recur, making it very difficult to treat.

Grando has been meeting with Dr. Howard Safran, a researcher and oncologist with The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital.

He offered Grando, in addition to the traditional treatments, something new and experimental -- an HPV vaccine.

"Human papilloma virus causes three kinds of cancer. It causes cervical, anal cancer, and certain types of head and neck cancer," Safran said.

This is not the vaccine that's used to prevent cervical cancer. This experimental vaccine is designed to fight anal cancer.

"Our hope is that the vaccine will stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer cells and increase the cure rate in patients with more advanced disease," Safran said.

The Brown University oncology research group coordinates the clinical cancer research. Founding hospitals, like Rhode Island Hospital, administer the treatments.

Grando is halfway through his HPV vaccine treatment. It's administered intravenously every month.

"I'm feeling a lot better than I did," he said.