Is the Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine the next big break-through in treating this terrible disease?
It could be a game changer. It could be another dead end.
But it is sure worth exploring. Right now this vaccine is on the cutting edge of pancreatic cancer research. It is in several clinical trials around the globe, and early results look promising.
So, just exactly what is a pancreatic cancer vaccine? First, I think it would be helpful to get the basic scope on vaccines in general.
Most of us are familiar with the childhood vaccines. Mumps, measles, polio. All these horrific diseases have been largely wiped out due to the introduction of vaccines.
A vaccine is a “medicine” that boosts the immune system’s natural ability to protect the body against dangerous, infectious disease germs that come from outside our bodies. Like mumps, measles and polio.
A cancer vaccine is a “medicine “ that boosts the immune system’s ability to protect the body against dangerous diseases that come from our own damaged or abnormal cells. Like cancer.
There are actually 2 types of cancer vaccines.
1. Preventive Vaccines – used to prevent cancer from developing in healthy people.
2. Treatment or Therapeutic Vaccines – used to treat existing cancers by strengthening the body’s natural immune response against the cancer cells.
The Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine falls in the Treatment Vaccine category. It has been developed to treat existing cancers of the pancreas. But it is still just in the clinical phase of research (not available to the general public) and it currently has some serious limitations.
One of the main difficulties in developing a cancer vaccine to treat existing cancers is that our immune system does not “see” the cancer cells as dangerous. These cancer cells are, after all, our own cells. Cancer happens when our own cells become damaged or abnormal in some way. So it’s our body, just gone a little haywire (or a lot haywire in the case of pancreatic cancer).
The second hardship in developing an effective cancer vaccine is the cancer’s devious messaging system. Researchers are learning that many cancers can send chemical messages to the body that suppress the immune system response. No immune response, no cancer death. Very devious. Kind of like some alien movie where the alien can shift change and stay one step ahead of the good guys. Sometimes we just can’t catch a break!
But… the Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine is showing promise in early clinical trials. Extending longevity, delaying or stopping cancer growth altogether.
Unfortunately, the limitations make these vaccines very, well… limited.
Right now, the bulk of the pancreatic cancer vaccine trials are geared for pancreatic cancer patients who can undergo surgery to resect the cancer. These trials are exploring the effectiveness of using the vaccine after surgery to reduce the recurrence of the cancer. That is good news, if you are one of the ones who is a candidate for surgery. I believe the percentage of surgical candidates with pancreatic cancer is somewhere in the 10-15% range.
If you are interested in seeing if you might qualify for one of these clinical trials, check out our links for current trials around the country.
This is just the beginning of the research on pancreatic cancer vaccines. Don’t hold your breath, but don’t count them out. Right now, these vaccines are in the developmental stage, not the proven stage. I’m just glad there is active, potentially viable research targeting pancreatic cancer.
Let’s watch and see how they develop….
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