Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gender and Cancer Vaccines

A number of cancer vaccines are on the market or under investigation right now, many targeted to gender-specific cancers. Along with the FDA-approved Gardasil(TM) HPV vaccine, which can prevent certain types of cervical cancer, trials are underway on the prostate cancer vaccine GVAX(R), a breast cancer vaccine, and another cervical cancer vaccine.

One important difference between all these vaccines is that Gardasil is given before any cancer diagnosis, and the other vaccines under trial that I mentioned are given after a cancer diagnosis in addition to standard cancer treatment. These post-diagnosis vaccines seem to be the trend with cancer vaccines, despite the heavy marketing of Gardasil. These vaccines are designed to "retrain" the patient's immune system to respond more effectively to proteins associated with cancer cells. Some of these vaccines are developed using the patient's own cells, and other are not.

Two promising post-diagnosis vaccines under investigation that are not gender-specific target lung cancer (the most deadly cancer among both men and women) and cutaneous melanoma (which is more deadly among men than among women).

I'm curious about the gender differences between cancer vaccines. Do women respond more favorably than men to cancer vaccines, or vice versa? Are vaccines that use the patient's own cells more or less effective than those that don't? Are vaccines for gender-specific cancers, such as prostate and cervical cancer, more or less effective than vaccines for cancers that can strike both genders? There might be no patterns here, but if there are, it would be interesting to see how physiology, sociology, and other factors impact the effectiveness of these vaccines.

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