CANCER VACCINES: A NOVEL APPROACH FOR
TREATING PANCREATIC CANCER
Cancer vaccines are an innovative cancer treatment currently
being studied in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer. The term
vaccine” is generally associated with prevention of disease,
such as immunization against an infection. However, cancer
vaccines are used to treat existing disease. The goal of
cancer vaccines is to help the immune system to recognize
cancer cells as foreign and attack them.
The immune system is often not able to identify cancer cells
as foreign or dangerous. This may happen for several reasons.
In some cases, cancer and normal cells are so similar that the
cancer cells go unnoticed. Also, some cancer cells can undergo
changes that allow them to hide from the immune system. In
addition, some cancer cells have the ability to send chemical
messages that stop the immune system from responding.
Cancer vaccines help the body recognize cancer cells by
introducing cancer-associated antigens to the body. An
antigen is a specific type of protein that the body “sees” as
foreign. Once a cancer vaccine is injected into the body, cells
from the immune system engulf the vaccine and display the
antigens to the immune system. Then, the immune system
recognizes the foreign cells and responds by attacking the
cancer cells that contain this type of antigen.
Researchers continue to investigate and learn more about the
specific antigens associated with pancreatic cancer. Cancer
cell antigens can be unique to individual tumors, shared
by several tumor types or expressed by the normal tissue
from which a tumor grows. With pancreatic cancer, several
different antigens are currently being studied.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF CANCER VACCINES
They use the body’s own immune system to fight off
They provide an alternative to standard treatment or
enhance the effectiveness of standard treatment.
They cause minimal side effects.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF CANCER VACCINES
The side effects of cancer vaccines are generally milder than
chemotherapy side effects. They cause flu-like symptoms
such as fever, headache, nausea and fatigue. Redness,
itching and/or sores can also occur around the injection site.
The immune system could also potentially attack normal cells
in the body. This could cause fever, achy muscles and joints,
and inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis.
TYPES OF CANCER VACCINES
Several different types of cancer vaccines are being studied
to use at different stages of pancreatic cancer. Some are
used after surgery to try to prevent a cancer recurrence;
others are used to delay or stop the growth of cancer in
patients who are not candidates for pancreatic surgery. Other
cancer vaccines attack cancer cells that have not been killed
by other forms of treatment.
Vaccines for the treatment of pancreatic cancer are only
available in clinical trials.
PANCREATIC CANCER VACCINE CLINICAL TRIALS
Clinical trials are underway to thoroughly evaluate the safety
and efficacy of different pancreatic cancer vaccines. The
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is aware of numerous
vaccine studies in progress for the treatment of pancreatic
cancer. (See a listing of the studies on the next page.)
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network recommends
that all patients consider clinical trials when exploring
To learn more about clinical trials, or to receive a list of
clinical trials in your area, contact a PALS Associate toll-free
at 877-272-6226 or e-mail
PATIENT AND LIAISON SERVICES (PALS)
PALS offers comprehensive, high-quality information and resources to patients and families facing pancreatic
cancer, including information about the disease, treatments, clinical trials, side effect and symptom
management, diet and nutrition, and support resources. Contact a PALS Associate to answer your questions,
receive personalized pancreatic cancer information or a free educational packet.
El programa de PALS esta disponible en español.
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