What are Cancer Vaccines

Cancer vaccines are a form of immunotherapy that work to improve the body's natural defences in the fight against a variety of cancers.

The vaccines may prevent the cancer from returning or destroy any remaining cancer cells in the body after the completion of other treatments. In some cases, they may also stop a tumour from spreading.

cancer vaccines

There are two different forms of vaccine:

  • Direct, which uses a cancer antigen or protein that is injected under the skin
  • Indirect, which uses white blood “dendritic cells” that have been exposed to a cancer antigen

Antigens are substances which can be found on the surface of cells and are generally not part of the body. Your immune system will attack these antigens to get rid of them, which leaves a “memory” that allows your system to respond accordingly to those antigens in the future. It is important to note that not all cancers have a good “antigen” that can be made into a vaccine, and the effects of many vaccines last for only a few months.

What types of cancers are vaccines being developed for?

Researchers are currently testing vaccines for a range of cancers, including:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Brain tumours
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Myeloma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer

What do cancer vaccines
involve for patients?

Cancer treatment vaccines work to boost your immune system's ability to identify and dispose of antigens. The goal is a stimulation of the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

Most cancer vaccines will help strengthen the immune response and are made for individual patients. They can be produced from a tumour sample through a series of steps:

  • White blood cells, which help the body fight infections and diseases, are removed from the blood
  • They are modified in a lab to target cancer cells
  • The cells are put back into through a vein, similar to a blood transfusion to teach the immune system to destroy cancer cells
therapeutic cancer vaccines

Cancer Vaccines

As viral infections are responsible for several cancers, preventive vaccines can reduce the level of risk in certain situations. For example, cervical, head and neck cancer can all be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), and liver cancer can be caused by hepatitis B (HBV).

A range of vaccines, some of which already approved by the FDA, have been developed to prevent HBV and HPV to protect against the related cancers.

Cancer Vaccines

Each tumour is unique with its own distinguishing antigens, requiring a more sophisticated cancer vaccine.

Specific targets on tumours can help distinguish cancer cells. As a result, the FDA-approved sipuleucel-T vaccine was developed for the treatment of advanced prostate cancer.

Another example is Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, which is a tuberculosis vaccine which can be used as a general immune stimulant. BCG was the first immunotherapy approved by the FDA and is often used for early-stage bladder cancer.

sipuleucel t vaccine


Some tumours have targets that are the result of mutation, referred to as neoantigens. These antigens are expressed exclusively by tumour cells, so the use of neoantigen vaccines works to create immune responses targeted at the specific tumour cells, sparing healthy cells from an attack by the immune system. The theory is that this process may prevent some side effects.

Several types of neoantigen vaccines are undergoing clinical trials for evaluation as a stand-alone treatment, as well as in combination with other therapies.

ConnectGene can assess
if Cancer Vaccines therapy is right for you

neoantigen vaccines

ConnectGene can assist in assessing your suitability for cancer vaccines, beginning with the initial screening process, through to personalised treatment selection. From here, we organise your referral to a treatment centre that has the capability to deliver experimental cancer vaccines on a clinical trial.

Speak to our team today to organise the first step of this process to see if cancer vaccines may be suitable for your situation.

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