Cancer Q&A for April 21

What are cancer vaccines?

According to the National Cancer Institute vaccines are “medicines that boost the immune system’s natural ability to protect the body against ‘foreign invaders,’ mainly infectious agents that may cause disease.”

Usually a weakened version of the virus or bacteria is introduced into the body so that the immune system learns how to fight it.

There are two types of vaccines: preventative and treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved two preventative vaccines — Gardasil and Cervarix, which protect against two types of HPV (types 16 and 18) that are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. These types of HPV also cause some vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers.

The FDA has also approved a vaccine for the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which prevents hepatitis B infections that can lead to liver cancer.

In April 2010, the FDA approved the first cancer treatment vaccine called sipuleucel-T or Provenge. It is approved for use in some men with metastatic prostate cancer and designed to stimulate an immune response to prostatic acid phosphatase, an antigen that is found on most prostate cancer cells.

Sipuleucel-T is customized to each patient and in a clinical trial, increased the survival of men with a certain type of metastatic prostate cancer by about four months.

For more information contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge at (225) 927-2273, , or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave.

ä Internet Resources:

NCI: Cancer Vaccines

NCI: Treating and Preventing Cancer with Vaccines

CancerCare: The Future Role of Cancer Vaccines

This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.