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Vaccine Therapy

Medical oncologists at Penn Medicine are internationally recognized for the use of vaccines to stimulate the immune system in the treatment of cancer. We provide specialized cancer treatment and support teams to coordinate overall patient care and direct immunotherapy and other related treatments.

What is Vaccine Therapy?

Typically when foreign cells enter the body, the immune system responds and mounts an attack against the virus or bacteria. However, the immune system does not naturally recognize cancer cells as being foreign so it does not mount an immune response against it. Cancer vaccines stimulate the immune system so that it recognizes the cancer cells as foreign and attacks the cells.

Cancer treatment vaccines are sometimes made with cells from the patient's own tumor, which are modified in the lab and then returned to stop, destroy or delay the growth of the cancer.

Cancers Treated with Vaccine Therapy

Cancer vaccines are used to treat cancers that have already developed. The objective is to delay or stop cancer cell growth, shrink tumors, prevent cancer from coming back and eliminate cancer cells that have not been killed by other forms of treatment.

Vaccines are also used to prevent infections. By introducing inactivated or killed forms of a virus or bacteria to the immune system before an infection actually occurs, the immune system is primed to recognize potential infections. Antibodies that are specific for the vaccine are increased in the body and allow for a very rapid response to potential infections by the viruses or bacteria associated with that vaccine. In this way, actual infections can be quickly recognized by the immune system and eliminated before a significant infection can take hold.

Vaccine therapy is not appropriate for all diseases. We currently use vaccine therapy to treat:

Visit OncoLink for more information on vaccine therapies. You can also learn more about mRNA vaccine technology