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Unlike traditional vaccines intended to directly prevent diseases such as polio, small pox or measles, cancer vaccines do not directly attack the disease. Still, vaccines are critical to the prevention of many cancers and in the treatment of others.

A vaccine introduces a small amount of weakened or mutated disease cells into the body. Although it is not enough to make a patient sick, the vaccine has enough cells to help the body build antibodies to recognize and fight off the disease. Depending on the vaccine, the body may know how to prevent certain diseases for an entire lifetime, or the patient may need a booster, or “reminder,” to continue to ward off the disease.

Cancer vaccines come in two categories:

Prophylactic or preventative vaccines work by killing viruses that may lead to cancer. The only vaccine approved to prevent cancer is:

Therapeutic or treatment vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. Therapeutic cancer vaccines now in use include: