Thinking about cancer or dealing with cancer risk can be scary or overwhelming, but we believe that receiving information and resources is comforting, empowering, and lifesaving.
Today’s oncology arsenal utilizes both preventive and treatment vaccines. Cancer prevention vaccines target viruses that are known to cause cancer. Some forms of the human papilloma virus (HPV), for example, have been linked to cervical and other cancers. HPV vaccines help to prevent cervical and other cancers associated with HPV infection.
No vaccines are currently approved to prevent hereditary cancers. One of the challenges involved is that the cancer develops from a person’s own cells, so the vaccine must be able to recognize the difference between a healthy cell and one that is evolving into a cancer cell. This is very different from the way other traditional vaccines that target viruses work. Because this research is still in very early stages it will likely be many years before vaccines to prevent hereditary cancers are available.
Cancer treatment vaccines are molecules that are introduced into the body to start an immune response against cancer cells; they are different from vaccines that work as prevention against viruses such as chicken pox. Instead of preventing disease, cancer treatment vaccines encourage the immune system to attack an existing disease. These vaccines are usually made from a patient’s own tumor cells or from substances produced by tumor cells, to try to prompt the immune system to mount an attack against cancer cells in the body. One example is Sipuleucel-T, a cancer treatment vaccine that is used to treat some men with metastatic prostate cancer. Other cancer treatment vaccines are being tested in clinical trials to treat a range of cancers, including breast cancer.
Cancer vaccine side effects include pain, swelling, redness, bruising or itching at the site of injection. Rare side effects include fever, headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, sleep problems, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, tooth pain, or joint or muscle pain.