Mar 16, 2012

Stopping Cancer—could the immune system hold the key?

Researchers hope new vaccines may be one of the answers.

Traditional cancer treatment often involves surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. While these approaches often have success, cancer is still a leading cause of death. More than 150 types of cancer have been identified.

One of the newest treatment approaches uses vaccines to treat cancers. A unique feature of these vaccines is that they stimulate your own immune system to identify and kill cancer cells. This works much the same as the vaccines you have had for smallpox, measles, and other diseases, except it has been far more difficult with cancer. Unlike infections, which are caused by foreign organisms invading our bodies, cancer comes from within and therefore is much better at evading the immune system.

In recent clinical trials using vaccines, some participants have had their cancer growth stopped and a fortunate few have remained cancer-free since treatment. Why some patients respond to vaccines and others do not is still something of a mystery and the focus of intensive research.

Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy depress or weaken the immune system and can cause serious side effects. Cancer vaccines strengthen your immune system and are less likely to cause serious side effects.

Testing new vaccines will mean many clinical trials before they’re perfected and approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

Learn more about cancer vaccines from the American Cancer Society

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