Vaccines and Immunotherapy to Prevent or Treat Cancer

By Emily Menendez - Last Updated: August 29, 2022

From the yearly flu vaccine to shingles vaccines, and even the newer COVID-19 vaccine, millions of people worldwide receive vaccines each year. Besides these well-known vaccinations, many vaccines exist to prevent or treat certain types of cancer, as well. Some prevent the spread of cancer in patients who have already been diagnosed, while some are one-time vaccines that can lower the risk of being diagnosed with a form of cancer later in life.

Prostate Cancer Vaccines

Prostate cancer is one of the few forms of cancer that can be targeted with immunotherapy vaccines. For patients with prostate cancer that hasn’t spread and who have mild symptoms, sipuleucel-T is the only vaccine approved for prostate cancer that helps by activating immune cells to multiply and tack prostate cancer cells. Sipuleucel-T was first approved for use in 2010, and as of 2019, 30,000 men have been prescribed the vaccine.

A T-helper 1 multiantigen vaccine has also been recently tested that can target antigens HPN, AMACR, and even PSMA. The vaccine has shown significant anti-tumor activity and inhibited the growth of Myc-CaP cells post-immunization in test mice.

Bladder Cancer Immunotherapy

Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Immunotherapy is the only vaccine approved by the FDA that can treat early-stage bladder cancer. It can reduce the risk of cancer progression in patients with high-grade non–muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC), and is used to keep cancer from growing and to prevent it from coming back. Patients who receive BCG should be immunocompetent and have a small tumor burden. BCG has been shown to eliminate 70% of cancer in patients who meet the treatment criteria.

Melanoma Immunotherapy

For advanced melanoma patients whose cancer cannot be removed with surgery and has spread to other areas of the skin, soft tissue, or lymph nodes, talimogene laherparepvec is an immunotherapy treatment that is injected directly into the site of cancerous melanoma. The drug is injected on or beneath the skin or the lymph glands, depending on the site of the melanoma. It uses a weakened form of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1, and has an overall response rate of 25% and a complete response rate of 10%.

Preventive Cancer Vaccines

Some vaccines exist that can prevent certain types of cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for children aged 11 to 12 years old. The vaccine is intended to prevent HPV infection, which can cause certain forms of cancer later in life. According to the CDC, over 9 of every 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. It can also cause other forms of cancer, such as penile cancer or throat cancer.

Hepatitis B vaccines can prevent hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. The vaccine is available for all ages and is especially recommended for those under 19 years old who have not been vaccinated, or for adults 60 years or older who may be at risk for hepatitis B infection. HBV can cause lifelong infection and even liver cancer.

Before recommending vaccines or immunotherapy treatment options to patients, ensure that they know the potential side effects that come with treatment, and review their medical history to ensure that a specific treatment is right for them.



Immunotherapy for Prostate Cancer

Bacillus Calmette-Guérin Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer Overview of BCG Immunotherapy

Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC)

Cancer Vaccines: Preventive, Therapeutic, Personalized