Can Vaccines Be the Cure for Cancer? - Knew Today

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Can Vaccines Be the Cure for Cancer?

Written by Chittaranjan Panda · 3 min read >
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Cancer, a formidable foe for centuries, has long been the focus of relentless research and treatment innovation. While traditional methods like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy remain crucial weapons in our arsenal, a new frontier is emerging: anti-cancer vaccines.

Imagine a world where, instead of battling malignancies head-on, we could train our own immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. This is the revolutionary promise of anti-cancer vaccines, and it’s a prospect that’s rapidly evolving from science fiction to reality.

What is an Anti-Cancer Vaccine?



An anti-cancer vaccine, also known as an oncovaccine, is a form of immunotherapy that can either prevent the development of certain cancers or treat existing cancers. They work by training your immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

There are two main types of anti-cancer vaccines:

1. Preventive vaccines:

  • These vaccines target viruses that can cause cancer, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV).
  • By preventing these viruses from infecting cells, the vaccine stops them from triggering the development of cancer.
  • Examples include the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers, and the hepatitis B vaccine, which protects against liver cancer.

2. Therapeutic vaccines:

  • These vaccines are used to treat existing cancer by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • They can work in different ways, such as:
    • Exposing the immune system to specific molecules (antigens) found on cancer cells.
    • Stimulating the immune system’s T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
    • Helping the immune system overcome its own tolerance to cancer cells.
  • There are currently only a few FDA-approved therapeutic vaccines for specific types of cancer, such as Sipuleucel-T for prostate cancer and T-VEC for melanoma.

It’s important to note that while anti-cancer vaccines are a promising field of research, they are still in their early stages of development. They are not yet a cure for all cancers, and they may not be effective for everyone. However, they have the potential to revolutionize the way we prevent and treat cancer in the future.

Is it Available for Treatment in Research Stage?



The availability of anti-cancer vaccines depends on the type you’re asking about:

Preventive vaccines:

  • Some preventive anti-cancer vaccines are widely available and recommended for routine vaccination schedules.
    • For example, the HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for girls and boys to prevent cervical and other HPV-related cancers.
    • Similarly, the hepatitis B vaccine is routinely recommended for infants and other high-risk groups to prevent liver cancer.

Therapeutic vaccines:

  • In contrast, most therapeutic anti-cancer vaccines are still in research and development stages.
    • Only a few are currently approved by the FDA for specific types of cancer, such as Sipuleucel-T for prostate cancer and T-VEC for melanoma.
    • Others are undergoing clinical trials to assess their safety and effectiveness in various cancer types.
    • While promising, it may take several years before they become widely available for routine clinical use.

Therefore, the availability of anti-cancer vaccines depends on their specific type and purpose. Preventive vaccines are readily available for certain cancers, while therapeutic vaccines are largely in research and development stages with a few exceptions.

What are Common Cancers Treated with Vaccine?



Currently, there are only a few FDA-approved vaccines for treating existing cancers, so the range of common cancers addressed by them is limited. Here are the two main ones:

Prostate cancer:

Sipuleucel-T (Provenge) is the only FDA-approved therapeutic cancer vaccine for prostate cancer.

  • It’s made from a patient’s own immune cells that are grown in the lab and exposed to a specific protein found in prostate cancer cells.
  • These activated immune cells are then infused back into the patient, where they can help attack and destroy cancer cells.

Bladder cancer:

Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is a vaccine originally developed against tuberculosis, but it’s also used to treat early-stage bladder cancer.

  • It’s instilled directly into the bladder, where it activates the immune system to attack cancer cells lining the bladder wall.

It’s important to note that these vaccines are not cures for cancer, and they may not work for everyone. They are often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

While the number of currently available therapeutic cancer vaccines is limited, research in this field is rapidly advancing. More vaccines are being developed for various cancers, and some are showing promising results in clinical trials.

Here are some examples of cancers for which therapeutic cancer vaccines are being investigated:

  • Cervical cancer: Vaccines are being developed to target the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer.
  • Melanoma: Several vaccines are being studied for melanoma, some of which are designed to target specific mutations in the cancer cells.
  • Lung cancer: Researchers are developing vaccines that target different molecules found on lung cancer cells.
  • Colorectal cancer: Vaccines are being studied that target carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), a protein often elevated in colorectal cancer.

These are just a few examples, and many other cancer types are being explored for potential vaccine development. It’s an exciting field with the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment in the future.

Written by Chittaranjan Panda
Dr. Chittaranjan Panda is a distinguished medical professional with a passion for spreading knowledge and empowering individuals to make informed health and wellness decisions. With a background in Pathology, Dr. Chittaranjan Panda has dedicated his career to unraveling the complexities of the human body and translating medical jargon into easily understandable concepts for the general public. Profile
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