Vaccines are given to protect against certain diseases, such as cervical and prostate cancers, and infections by boosting your immune system. Vaccines provide immunity so the body builds up antibodies without actually contracting the illness.
When a vaccine is given (as a shot), a small, weakened or dead amount of the disease is introduced to the body. Although it is not enough to make you sick, it is enough to help your body build antibodies in order to fight off the disease. Depending on the vaccine, your body may know how to prevent certain diseases for an entire lifetime, or may need a booster, or “reminder,” so your body continues to ward off the disease.
These days, there are vaccines available for many illnesses that were previously considered deadly diseases. Certain vaccines have been shown to help prevent or treat cancer, including:
- HPV Vaccines: Gardasil® and Cevarix® are both approved by the FDA to prevent HPV infection. Both cervical cancer vaccines prevent infection with two high-risk HPV strains, which cause nearly 70 percent of cervical cancers. Gardasil also prevents infection with two HPV strains that cause nearly 90 percent of genital warts. These vaccines are given in a series of three injections over six months.
- Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®): This vaccine can be used to help treat advanced prostate cancer. Since Provenge is an immunotherapy treatment that helps the immune system fight disease, each dose is made specifically for each patient. The personalized dose of Provenge consists of the patient’s own immune cells that have been trained to seek and attack prostate cancer cells. By stimulating the natural ability of immune cells already in the blood, Provenge may improve a patient's prognosis. This treatment typically takes six weeks, and is administered in three infusions every two weeks.
Clinical trials are being conducted on other cancer vaccines, but they are not yet approved in the United States.