Conventional vaccines boost your body’s natural ability to defend against foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses. Therapeutic cancer vaccines train your body to protect itself against its own damaged or abnormal cells — including cancer cells. These vaccines expose your immune system to molecules associated with cancer that enables the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
One FDA-approved vaccine for cancer is sipuleucel-T (Provenge®), which is used for prostate cancer that has metastasized (spread). Provenge rallies the immune system’s disease-fighting forces in men who already have prostate cancer. Provenge is created by removing some immune cells, exposing them to a molecule from prostate cancer cells, and then infusing them back into the body. Provenge has been shown to extend survival in men with metastatic prostate cancer.
A second FDA-approved therapeutic cancer vaccine is T-VEC (Imlygic®), which is used to treat advanced melanoma that cannot be completely removed with surgery.
Several different vaccines are currently being investigated for use against other cancers — some of them in clinical trials at MSK.
Some conventional vaccines that prevent certain viral infections, like hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV), can also be considered cancer vaccines, since they prevent infections known to cause cancer (liver cancer in the case of hepatitis B and cervical and head and neck cancers in the case of HPV).