Understanding Different Treatment Types: Cancer Vaccines

While we often think of vaccines as a way to help prevent illness, there are vaccines available for treatment of certain cancers. Some cancer cells carry a substance known as an “antigen” on the outside of the cell. Cancer vaccines expose our immune system to these cancer specific antigens and help our body recognize them as harmful cells. As a result, our immune system can target cancer cells and destroy them more effectively.  

Types of Cancer Vaccines 

  • Sipuleucel-T is used in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer that is no longer responding to hormone therapy. 

  • Talimogene Laherparepvec is used in the treatment of advanced melanoma skin cancer.  

Good to Know

Another vaccine known as BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) is available for use in the treatment of bladder cancer. Unlike the above vaccines, BCG was originally created to treat tuberculosis. However, administration of BCG directly into your bladder is a common treatment in early-stage bladder cancer. 

Common Side Effects 

Side effects of these drugs can vary from patient to patient. Some of the more common side effects include: 

How These Vaccines Are Developed 

The technology for therapeutic cancer vaccines is still being researched.

Sipuleucel- T is made from the white blood cells of the patient who will be receiving the vaccine. This is a personalized vaccine, which means it is created specifically for each patient.

Talimogene is made by altering the genetic makeup of the herpes simplex virus allowing for selective infection of cancer cells. The infected cancer cells are then recognized and destroyed by the immune system.  

Available Clinical Trials 

Currently, there are many clinical trials testing the efficacy of cancer vaccines on different types of cancers. The information obtained from these clinical trials is an important step in the development and FDA approval of these drugs for release to the public.

If you have questions about whether there is a vaccine trial available for your cancer, talk with your oncologist or visit Clinicaltrials.gov.   

Questions for Your Doctor

  • Am I a candidate for this type of therapy? 

  • What side effects should I expect? 

  • Will I need to be admitted to a hospital for treatment?