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Vaccine Therapy

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 goal of vaccine therapy is to make the immune system attack any cancer 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 administering chemotherapy, radiation or other standard cancer therapy to reduce the amount of disease in the body before giving 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.

Types of Vaccine Therapies

There are several types of vaccine therapies, which are 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.