Cancer Vaccines

Most of us know about vaccines given to healthy people to help prevent infections, such as measles and chicken pox. These vaccines use weakened or killed germs like viruses or bacteria to start an immune response in the body. Getting the immune system ready to defend against these germs helps keep people from getting infections. Most cancer vaccines work the same way, but they make the person’s immune system attack cancer cells. The goal is to help treat cancer or to help keep it from coming back after other treatments. But there are also some vaccines that may actually help prevent certain cancers. Cancer treatment vaccines are different from the vaccines that work against viruses. These vaccines try to get the immune system to mount an attack against cancer cells in the body. Instead of preventing disease, they are meant to get the immune system to attack a disease that already exists. Some cancer treatment vaccines are made up of cancer cells, parts of cells, or pure antigens. Sometimes a patient’s own immune cells are removed and exposed to these substances in the lab to create the vaccine. Once the vaccine is ready, it’s injected into the body to increase the immune response against cancer cells. Vaccines are often combined with other substances or cells called adjuvants that help boost the immune response even further.

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