The term cancer vaccine refers to a vaccine that either prevents infections with cancer-causing viruses, treats existing cancer or prevents the development of cancer in certain high risk individuals.
Some cancers, such as cervical cancer and some liver cancers, are caused by viruses, and traditional vaccines against those viruses, such as HPV vaccine and Hepatitis B vaccine, will prevent those cancers.
Scientists have also been trying to develop vaccines against existing cancers. Some researchers believe that cancer cells routinely arise and are destroyed by the healthy immune system; cancer forms when the immune system fails to destroy them. One approach to cancer vaccination is to separate proteins from cancer cells and immunize cancer patients against those proteins, in the hope of stimulating an immune reaction that would kill the cancer cells. Therapeutic cancer vaccines are being developed for the treatment of breast, lung, colon, skin, kidney, prostate, and other cancers..
On April 14 2009 Dendreon Corporation announced that their Phase III clinical trial of Provenge, a cancer vaccine designed to treat prostate cancer, had succeeded in demonstrating an increase in survival. This is the first robust, statistically significant Phase III result for a cancer vaccine, although the data have yet to be scrutinized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or by European Union regulatory agencies. Dendreon is forecasting marketing approval by the FDA by 2010
If Provenge is approved by the FDA, Dendreon will have opened a new era in cancer care.