Medical Minute 11-11-11: Cancer Vaccines

By: Andrew McIntosh Email
By: Andrew McIntosh Email

Prostate-breast-ovarian cancers-there are no cures-but now-there is new hope.

"I want to be part of something that works and so people won't die at a young age and can benefit from it," said Bud Dougherty, Prostate Cancer Vaccine Patient.

Bud Dougherty knows what it's like to face a tough fight. Diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, he endured surgery and radiation. Now he's one of the first to use one of two newly FDA approved vaccines to treat prostate cancer.

"We are talking about therapeutic vaccines that treat cancer by revving up the immune system," said Philip Kantoff, M.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute Boston, MA.

Prost-vac is made up of a small-pox related virus. In a three year study 30-percent of patients who received the prost-vac vaccine were alive, versus 17 percent who received a placebo shot. Meanwhile, another prostate cancer vaccine made from a patient's own cells-called provenge, improved the median survival rate by ten percent. At the Mayo Clinic, doctors are beginning to test new vaccines targeting a protein that's abundant in both ovarian and breast cancers.

"It creates memory cells that can be stimulated to destroy a tumor," said Keith Knutson, M.D., Mayo Clinic.

At the Cleveland Clinic, researchers are targeting breast cancer before it has a chance to form. This vaccine targets a protein that's expressed in almost all breast cancer, but not in normal breast tissue. The vaccine prevented the disease in 100 percent of cases in the lab. Breast-prostate-ovarian--three vaccines taking aim at cancer and saving lives.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer also has the ability to spread throughout your body, and is the second-leading cause of death in the United States. Cancer is caused by mutations to DNA within cells. Sometimes you're born with a genetic mutation; or they can be caused by forces within your body, such as hormones, viruses and chronic inflammation. Genetic mutations can also be caused by forces outside of your body, such as ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) or radiation. Mutations in oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes and DNA repair genes are the most common ones found in cancer. (

RISK FACTORS: Factors known to increase your risk of cancer include: age, environment, health conditions, habits, and family history. (

SYMPTOMS: Signs and symptoms caused by cancer will vary depending on what part of the body is affected. Some general signs and symptoms associated with, but not specific to, cancer include: fatigue, difficulty swallowing, persistent cough, indigestion or joint and muscle pain, changes in bladder or bowel, skin and weight changes and a lump or thickening felt under the skin. (

VACCINES: Cancer vaccines are medicines that belong to a class of substances known as biological response modifiers. They work by stimulating or restoring the immune system’s ability to fight infections and disease. There are two types of cancer vaccines: Preventive (or prophylactic), which are intended to prevent cancer from developing in healthy people; and Treatment (or therapeutic) vaccines, which are intended to treat an existing cancer by strengthening the body’s natural defenses against the cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines, Gardasil® and Cervarix®, that protect against infection by the two types of HPV—types 16 and 18—that cause approximately 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer worldwide. The FDA has also approved a cancer preventive vaccine that protects against HBV infection, which can lead to liver cancer. In April 2010, the FDA approved the first cancer treatment vaccine. Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®, manufactured by Dendreon), is approved for use in some men with metastatic prostate cancer. Clinical trials for treatment and preventive vaccines are in progress for several types of cancer including: breast cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, lung cancer, pancreatic and kidney cancers, brain tumors, bladder cancer, melanoma, multiple myeloma and solid tumors.


Tora Vinci
Media Relations
Cleveland Clinic
(216)444 -2412

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