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 third most common cancer in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there will be about 236,740 new cases and 130,180 deaths from lung cancer in 2022.

Lung cancer accounts for about 25 percent of all cancer deaths. It’s the leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Most people with lung cancer diagnoses are age 65 or older, with the average age of diagnosis being 70 years old.

The chance of developing lung cancer during your life is 1 in 15 if you’re male and 1 in 17 if you’re female.

Treatments for lung cancer include vaccines. They can be used to attack The cells of cancer..

  • stop cancer from returning
  • destroy The cells of cancer. left in the body after other treatment
  • A tumor can be stopped from growing or spreading.

The vaccines are made from a variety of sources.

  • The cells of cancer.
  • parts of cells.
  • proteins (antigens) on The cells of cancer.
  • Your own cells.

The vaccine combines these cells with substances that 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.

Researchers are studying lung cancer vaccines.

  • 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 The cells of cancer.. Phase 2 trial results were reported in 2019 and 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 study showed 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 The cells of cancer.. 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 study found 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 The cells of cancer.. A phase 2 study of 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 something.

  • There are side effects of the vaccine.
  • If the vaccine prevents lung cancer in people who are at high risk.
  • If the vaccine prevents lung cancer from returning in people who survived stages 1B to 3A.

If trials are successful, the only vaccine that could prevent lung cancer is CIMAvax-EGF. Other possible vaccines are only for treatment.

Lucanix and racotumomab have shown promising results in phase 2 or 3 trials. They are not approved in the US.

Many of the same treatments are used for small cell lung cancer. You can get treatments for each of them.

For NSCLC:

For SCLC:

  • surgery
  • The treatment is called Chemo.
  • Radiation therapy is done.
  • 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 The cells of cancer.. 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, The cells of cancer. can grow. This treatment activates T cells to kill The cells of cancer..

Monoclonal antibodies copy the way natural antibodies work. They either bind to The cells of cancer. and kill them, or help improve your immune system’s response to cancer. These are lab-made antibodies infused into your body.

The vaccine for lung cancer shows promise, but it is likely years away. The vaccine is still being recruited for a trial.

If you want to participate in a clinical trial, you should talk to your doctor. They can help you figure out how to enroll.