Vaccines for highly contagious childhood illness — such as diphtheria, measles, and the mumps — are, for many, an everyday part of pediatric health care. Even though our kids may scream piteously as the needle goes in, many parents feel that it’s a good thing to protect their children from what were once very common illnesses.
Now this same concept is being applied to cancer.
Along with the growing interest in immunotherapy to treat cancer, there is now growing interest in the idea of preventing cancer through using the body’s own mechanisms to fight disease. There are several vaccines that have gone through clinical trials and been approved by the FDA: Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix®. There are also several vaccines that work against Hepatitis B.
Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix®were formulated to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that can be spread through sexual intercourse. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to HPV can cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. These vaccines protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV) taking up residence in the body.
Long-term exposure to Hepatitis B virus (HBV) impairs liver function and can lead to liver cancer. So researchers have designated HBV as the target of multiple vaccines that protect against this infection. Two vaccines, Engerix-B and Recombivax HB, target only Hepatitis B. Other vaccines such as Twinrix and Pediatrix protect against HBV and other harmful viruses. Clinical trials are underway to develop vaccines to prevent cancers of the bladder, brain, breast, prostate, and kidneys, among others.
Using vaccines to protect and prevent cancers is just beginning. It is showing great promise as research shows the interrelationship of various viruses and cancer development.