Cancer vaccines are a new type of cancer treatment and are still in the early stages of development. This information is about how vaccines can be used to treat cancer.
Vaccines have been used for many years as a way of preventing infectious illnesses such as flu, tuberculosis (TB), measles, mumps, typhoid and German measles. Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to recognise and fight abnormal ‘foreign’ cells in the body, such as viruses and bacteria.
Scientists and doctors are now trying to develop vaccines that can stimulate the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells.
Some vaccines for particular cancers have been developed. These are being tested to see whether they can treat the cancer or help stop it coming back after treatment. You may be asked to take part in a research trial that includes a new vaccine.
Vaccines are also used to prevent viruses that can cause cancer. In the UK, all 12–13-year-old girls are routinely offered the HPV vaccine, which helps prevent the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can cause cervical cancer. Another vaccine, called the HBV vaccine, is used to prevent hepatitis B, which can cause a type of liver cancer. In the UK, the HBV vaccine is usually only given to people at high risk of developing hepatitis B. It’s only routinely offered in some Asian countries, where hepatitis is far more common.
This information is about vaccines to treat cancer. We have separate information about the HPV vaccine to prevent cancer.
Some people with early bladder cancer are treated using the BCG vaccine that is used to prevent tuberculosis. The vaccine is put into the bladder and helps stop early bladder cancers from coming back (recurring). Although BCG is a vaccine, it is not a cancer vaccine.
We have more information about the use of BCG in bladder cancer.