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Vaccines designed to treat cancer don't prevent the disease in the same way that conventional vaccine therapy prevents conditions such as measles or polio. The therapeutic cancer vaccines are designed to treat an already-present cancer and reduce its potential to grow.

Researchers are working on vaccines that could prevent cancer from recurring. Currently, there are no licensed blood cancer vaccines. Vaccines for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma are still in development and available only in clinical trials.

The treatment's goal is to make cancer cells more visible to the immune system, enabling it to attack any tumor cells. The concept of blood cancer vaccines is to train the immune system to:

  • think of cancer cells as "invaders," such as infectious microorganisms
  • recognize cancer cell antigens and attack cancer cells

Most cancer vaccine studies involve giving a patient chemotherapy, radiation or other standard cancer therapy to reduce the amount of disease in the body before administering the vaccine.

Many cancer vaccines being developed are intended to start an immune response to an antigen by stimulating T cells (white cells that help fight infection) to search for and destroy the tumor cells. Ideally, the vaccines destroy any remaining cells after other types of cancer treatment and help stop the disease from returning. Researchers are studying some therapeutic cancer vaccines in patients being monitored with a watch-and-wait approach. They're looking to see whether early vaccine treatment is more beneficial than waiting until the disease progresses before beginning therapy

Types of Vaccine Therapies

There are several types of vaccine therapies, distinguished by how they're made:

  • Some vaccines contain antigens or parts of antigens from the patient's cancer cells or another patient's cancer cells.
  • Some vaccines contain the DNA (material in the cell nucleus with the genetic code) for specific antigens.
  • Some vaccines are created by isolating cells in the laboratory and inserting the cancer antigen into them so they start making antibodies.
last updated on Tuesday, March 15, 2011
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