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  • Vaccines are traditionally used for the prevention of infections and related sequelae, but they have been repurposed as a novel treatment platform for several types of cancer.

  • Currently, there is only one skin cancer vaccine (T-VEC; oncolytic herpesvirus vaccine) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of advanced melanoma. Several other oncolytic virus vaccines and other vaccine platforms are in phases 1, 2, and 3 testing for the treatment of advanced melanoma.

  • The FDA-approved quadrivalent and 9-valent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines have been used in a few reports to prevent and treat nonmelanoma skin cancer and show promising initial results.


  • Cancer vaccines include a diverse array of vaccine platforms, including peptide- or protein-based vaccines, virus- or bacteria-based vaccines, dendritic cell or antigen-presenting cell vaccines, and whole tumor cell vaccines.

  • Each of these utilizes its distinct platform to target tumor cells, either through direct antitumor action or by enhancing the immune system to target malignant cells.


  • T-VEC improves overall long-term survival and should be considered for patients with advanced melanoma (stage IIIB, IIIC, or IV) that cannot be completely resected.


  • Melanoma is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among men and women in the United States. Several novel treatments, including T-VEC and other cancer vaccines that are in development, and immunotherapies will play a critical role in lessening the mortality associated with this disease.

  • Nonmelanoma skin cancer is more common but less deadly than melanoma. However, in cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer with aggressive features and for immunosuppressed patients, the HPV vaccine may serve as an important therapeutic and preventative strategy.


The story of the first vaccine began over 200 years ago when a farmer and a physician noticed that milkmaids who worked with cows were unaffected by the smallpox virus and inferred that an agent from the cows that had inoculated the milkmaids was protective. While the farmer inoculated his own family for protection, the physician facilitated clinical trials and developed the foundation for one of the greatest success stories in all of medicine: vaccination.1

Since then, vaccines have been developed to prevent dozens of infectious diseases as well as cancers associated with infection, especially for viruses like hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human papillomavirus (HPV).2 In the developed world, many diseases for which we have vaccines, like polio, measles, and rubella, are exceedingly rare, save for outbreaks most commonly arising from unvaccinated local persons or international travelers.

Although historically the role of vaccines has been for the prevention of infectious disease, recently, several cancer vaccines have been developed and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).3 The first of these was the intravesical Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine (TheraCys) for urothelial carcinoma in 1990. Twenty years later in ...

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