Cancer vaccines may sound like science fiction, but they already exist. Some vaccines, like the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, can prevent cancer. Other types of vaccines help treat cancer.
A lung cancer vaccine is already in use in Cuba, so you might wonder how far doctors are from being able to use it in the United States. Researchers in the United States are currently studying several vaccines that target lung cancer. While a lung cancer vaccine is not imminent, it may not be too far away.
Read on to learn more.
Lung cancer by the numbers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that lung cancer is the
According to the
Lung cancer accounts for about
Most people with lung cancer diagnoses are age
The chance of developing lung cancer during your life is
Lung cancer vaccines are treatment vaccines. They spur the immune system to attack cancer cells and can be used to:
- stop cancer from returning
- destroy cancer cells left in the body after other treatment
- stop a tumor from growing or spreading
The vaccines are made from any of the following:
- cancer cells
- parts of cells
- proteins (antigens) on cancer cells
- your own immune cells
Vaccines combine these cells with substances called adjuvants, which make your immune response stronger.
All lung cancer vaccines currently being tested are for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Most studies to date have focused on participants with advanced cancer.
Vaccines that researchers have studied or are studying for lung cancer include:
- Belagenpumatucel‐L vaccine (Lucanix). This causes the body to produce more of a protein called transforming growth factor beta-2 (TGF‐beta2), which can kill cancer cells. Phase 2 trial results were
reported in 2019and were generally positive.
- Stimuvax or Tecemotide. This generates an immune response against a protein called mucin 1. In NSCLC, there’s too much of this protein. A
2011 studyshowed positive results, but not strongly positive.
- MAGE‐A3. This targets an antigen made by cancer genes called melanoma-associated antigen. This vaccine did not work well in a
2016 study, and researchers are no longer studying it.
- CIMAvax-EGF. This targets a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is overexpressed on lung cancer cells. The vaccine stops EGF from binding to the receptor, which stops a tumor from growing. This vaccine is currently being used in Cuba, where multiple clinical trials found it to be safe and effective. A U.S. trial is underway.
- Racotumomab. This helps the body develop antigens against a type of lipid called NeuGcGM3. A
phase 2 and 3 studyfound that this vaccine led to significantly longer overall survival rates compared with the placebo.
- TG4010. This expresses a protein called IL2, which activates T cells and natural killer cells to attack cancer cells. A
phase 2 studyof this vaccine showed it led to longer survival times.
Researchers consider CIMAvax-EGF to be the lung cancer vaccine with the most promise. That’s because it’s already in use in other countries. In the United States, researchers are currently enrolling for a phase 1 trial.
The trial will look at:
- side effects of the vaccine
- if the vaccine prevents lung cancer in people at high risk
- if the vaccine prevents lung cancer from coming back in people who survived stages 1B to 3A NSCLC
If trials are successful, CIMAvax-EGF could be the only preventive vaccine for lung cancer. Other possible vaccines are for treatment only.
Other vaccines, such as Lucanix and racotumomab, have made it through phase 2 or 3 trials and show promising results. However, they are not approved in the United States.
NSCLC and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) share many of the same treatments. As of 2022, these are the treatments you can get for each.
- radiofrequency ablation
- radiation therapy
- immunotherapy, such as nivolumab or atezolizumab
- targeted drug therapy, such as osimertinib
- radiation therapy
- immunotherapy, such as atezolizumab or durvalumab
Immunotherapy vs. vaccines
Cancer vaccines are a type of immunotherapy, a class of treatments that work to activate your immune system to kill cancer cells. Other common types of immunotherapy cancer treatments are checkpoint inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies.
Checkpoint inhibitors block proteins that “turn off” T cells when they bind together. When T cells are turned off, cancer cells can grow. This treatment activates T cells to kill cancer cells.
Monoclonal antibodies copy the way natural antibodies work. They either bind to cancer cells and kill them, or help improve your immune system’s response to cancer. These are lab-made antibodies infused into your body.
Vaccines for lung cancer show promise, but they’re likely still years away. The most promising vaccine is still recruiting for its clinical trial.
Talk with your doctor if you want to participate in this or any other clinical trial. They can help figure out if the trial is right for you, and how to enroll.