Over the past few years, the healthcare community has been searching more and more for a vaccine to prevent or cure cancer. As of this moment, there is not a "cure all" vaccine for cancer.
Cancer preventive vaccines include the Gardasil vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) meant to help prevent cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancer. The vaccine against hepatitis B virus (HBV) may lower the risk of getting liver cancer. These vaccines don't target cancer cells. They target the viruses that can cause these cancers.
Treatment cancer vaccines are meant to get the immune system to attack a disease that already exists. A treatment cancer vaccine contains cancer cells, parts of cells, or pure antigens. According to the National Cancer Institute, these vaccines are designed to work by activating B cells and killer T cells and directing them to recognize and act against specific types of cancer, usually by injection. The vaccine increases the immune response against cancer cells that are already in the body. If the vaccine is combined with an adjuvant, it may help boost the immune response even further.
Medical News Today reports that there is currently an experimental vaccine for pancreatic and breast cancer known to reduce tumor size by 80 percent on average. "Tumors that share the same distinct carbohydrate signature may be especially treatable with this new vaccine… This includes various cancers such as colorectal, ovarian, breast, pancreatic and some others."
The National Cancer Institute has reported that there are many more trials going on for future cancer vaccines, including those to treat bladder, breast, cervical, kidney, lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancer, as well as brain tumors, Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and solid tumors. These vaccines are being given in conjunction with other forms of cancer therapy while in the experimental process.
Much like common vaccines, all these experimental vaccines are being made with antigens from dead or weakened cancer cells. The symptoms observed so far with cancer vaccines seem to be the same as those for vaccines we already get, such as redness of injection site, flu-like symptoms, and muscle aches.
At this time, only one cancer vaccine has been approved by the FDA. Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®) is used to treat advanced prostate cancer. Other cancer vaccines have shown some promise in clinical trials, but they have not been approved in the United States to treat cancer. Several types of cancer vaccines are being studied, with a few reaching late-stage clinical trials.
As an oncology nurse, I am excited to hear about new clinical trials being done with cancer vaccines. It is so important for nurses, especially oncology nurses, to know about the vaccines available and the vaccines that are in the clinical trials. You have to ask yourself, "Will there be a cure for cancer in my lifetime?" If not, how long do you think it will take to find a cure, if ever? I often wonder if the government has a part to play in the development of a cure for cancer.