Cancer vaccines of any sort generally fall under the broader category of immunotherapy. Vaccines are best described as medicines that are designed to boost the body's natural immune system and protect it against bacteria or viruses that can cause disease. Most individuals are familiar with the vaccines that are administered to babies or young children. They are given to stop the development of certain diseases like whooping cough and tetanus. Cancer vaccines can do that, too; however, there are others that are also designed to keep an existing cancer from spreading. Two mesothelioma prevention cancer vaccines are now available in the U.S. but treatment vaccines are still in the developmental stages and many are currently being tested in clinical trials.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a mesothelioma vaccine - or one that is used for the treatment of any other type of cancer - must achieve two goals. It has to stimulate certain immune responses and direct them against the target, i.e. the cancer cells; and it must be powerful enough to overcome the barriers that cancer cells use to protect themselves from attack. As scientists discover how cancer cells can escape recognition by the body's immune system, they can better develop treatment vaccines that will meet these goals.
In March 2010, a group of Dutch doctors and researchers announced that they had developed the first vaccine for mesothelioma and reported their findings in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The Dutch vaccine employs the use of tumor lysate-pulsed dendritic cells to stimulate the immune system, causing the body to produce mesothelioma-specific antibodies.
Treatment with this vaccine on clinical trial participants was achieved via a series of three vaccinations administered intradermally and intravenously over a two week period after mesothelioma chemotherapy. Results showed a positive effect in 80 percent of the individuals who participated. Side effects included a skin rash and flu-like symptoms for approximately 48 hours after the vaccines were given.
The results of the study indicated that the sooner the malignant mesothelioma patient receives the vaccine, the greater the chance of eliminating their disease. It's a very positive step in the right direction for mesothelioma cancer victims worldwide.
National Cancer Institute
Birmingham Science News Examiner