Steady progress in our understanding of the immune system has led to an effective, minimally invasive therapy option: the anticancer vaccine. Seventy years ago, scientists began developing the viral anticancer vaccine, and as the medical community’s grasp of the immune system improved, the vaccine emerged. Now, medical experts can use a vaccine to direct the body’s immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells.

A handful of anticancer vaccines have been developed. Their compositions vary, but they are typically made up of cancer cells, parts of other cells, or antigens. In 2008, Harald zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for discovering and creating the anticancer vaccine used to treat human papilloma virus (which leads to cervical cancer). This recognition reinforced the anticancer vaccine’s position as a safe, effective cancer treatment.

How the Anticancer Vaccine Works

The vaccine infuses cancer cells with a virus. This virus triggers the body’s immune system to fight, and–as a result–the immune system kills cancer cells. This is a particularly exciting treatment because once the immune system has attacked the virus, it continues to fight and kill any cancer cells that might return. This means administering the vaccine can eliminate cancer, and booster vaccinations can ward-off recurrence and potentially safeguard a person from cancer for life.

Preventative vs. Therapeutic

There are, generally speaking, two types of anticancer vaccines. The vaccines described so far largely reflect the therapeutic vaccine. It’s delivered to cancer cells and activates the immune system to beat cancer independently.

But the vaccine can be used preventatively, too. Preventative vaccines work by targeting virus-causing cancers. The most widely used preventative vaccine targets HPV and has been shown to be 90% effective at protecting women from the dangerous virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends males receive the vaccine, as well.

If you are interested in pursuing an anticancer vaccine, access a doctor who administers them. Consider asking:

  • Which vaccines are used and how do they work?
  • How will the vaccine be administered?
  • How many times or how often will I need to receive the vaccine?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Is the vaccine used in conjunction with any other interventions?