This type of treatment is experimental. It is a type of biological therapy. These are treatments that use natural body substances, or inactivated melanoma cells, to treat cancer. Vaccine treatment is not yet widely available because it is still being tested. But we have included it here because a lot of people are interested in it and it gets quite a bit of press coverage.
There are two areas of research that vaccines are being used for:
- As treatment for people with advanced melanoma that has spread to another part of the body
- As adjuvant therapy for people with high-risk melanoma particularly where it has spread to the lymph nodes
Cancer vaccines are designed to try to stimulate the body’s own immune system to fight the melanoma. The immune system does this by making antibodies to specific proteins (antigens) found on melanoma cells.
Antigens are large molecules found on all cells that the body recognises as foreign (in other words, not their own). Cancer cells have antigens. Antibodies are proteins made by the body that match each antigen exactly. The antibody combines with the antigen and marks that cell to be killed off by the immune system.
A cancer vaccine can either:
- Be made individually with one person’s melanoma cells and used to treat just that person
- Be made using lots of different melanoma antigens from different melanomas and used to treat many people
Vaccines made individually contain all the antigens that come from that person’s melanoma. Making it this way can be expensive and time consuming. But it is a good way of trying to make sure the vaccine works.
Other vaccines use several different strains of melanoma cells and have a large number of different antigens. Patients who have this vaccine will have some of the antigens on their melanoma cells and not others. This type of vaccine can be made in large quantities and can treat many people.