Research for pancreatic cancer vaccines looks promising, and you might be able to participate in clinical trials. Vaccines may be more effective than other treatments, like chemotherapy or tumor removal surgery.

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Pancreatic cancer is the third highest-ranked cause of death among people living with cancer in the United States.

Immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and tumor removal surgery are sometimes ineffective. So researchers are turning to other possible treatments, including vaccines.

While the research for pancreatic cancer vaccines is promising, with many undergoing clinical trials, it’ll likely be many years before a vaccine can be put to use.

Here’s what current research is saying about the potential of a pancreatic cancer vaccine.

Many of the vaccines use antigens, which are any substance that the body can recognize and form an immune response to. Some pancreatic cancer cells have antigens on their surface that the body can identify and form an immune response to.

Some types of pancreatic cancer vaccines that have been developed and are part of ongoing or completed clinical trials are:

  • Cell-based vaccines: These use antigen-presenting cells to cause an immune response against antigens on cancer cells.
  • Microorganism-based vaccines: These use microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, or genetically modified yeast to produce anticancer effects.
  • Exosome-based vaccines: These vaccines use tumor-derived exosomes that contain tumor antigens and can boost immunity. Cancer cells release exosomes, which travel through the blood and may allow cancer to spread.
  • Peptide-based vaccines: These use tumor-associated antigens to influence anticancer and T-cell (a type of immune cell) responses.
  • DNA-based vaccines: These use DNA with antigen information that cells can copy and use to control antitumor activity and immunity.
  • Protein-based vaccines: These vaccines use proteins from tumor tissues that may also be antigenic to create an immune response.

Another type of vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. A 2023 clinical trial tested an mRNA vaccine administered with atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and chemotherapy.

Results showed that the mRNA vaccine slowed the progression of pancreatic cancer recurrence and activated T-cell responses in participants.

T cells are a type of immune cell that may play a role in slowing the return of pancreatic cancer. They can recognize foreign features present on cancer cells.

In the clinical trial, the cancer returned in the participants who didn’t have a strong T-cell response after about a year. In contrast, those with a strong T-cell response did not see the return of cancer.

The eligibility requirements vary by clinical trial.

Most studies seek participants with a certain stage of pancreatic cancer. These studies might also require information about past treatments and your medical history.

Participating in a clinical trial for a pancreatic cancer vaccine may help slow its advancement. Participation may also provide access to treatments you might otherwise not have access to. Some clinical trials are actively recruiting participants.

You’ll also be directly impacting future treatments for others living with pancreatic cancer.

But there are risks associated with participation, including unpleasant side effects, high cost, and ineffectiveness.

Though current research looks promising and clinical trials are in progress, clinical trials can take months to years to complete. It’ll likely be many years before vaccines can be used to treat pancreatic cancer.

While some risk factors are not in your control, such as family history and sex, you can lower your risk of pancreatic cancer by:

  • avoiding smoking or working with a doctor on a smoking cessation plan if you currently smoke
  • maintaining a weight that’s healthy for you
  • engaging in physical activity
  • avoiding too much alcohol consumption (if applicable)
  • limiting exposure to certain workplace chemicals

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers.

While the vaccines won’t prevent cancer, they may help slow its progression. Also, they can reduce the likelihood of cancer returning after it’s removed in people living with the condition.

Though it’ll likely be many years before a vaccine is approved, the research looks promising. Some clinical trials are even actively recruiting participants who could shape the future of cancer treatments.