Cancer vaccines are designed to teach the immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells. Normally, when foreign cells enter the body (for example, when an infection occurs), the immune system responds to the invasion and clears the body of the foreign cells. Unlike infectious cells, cancer cells are not recognized as foreign by the body. Instead, the immune system thinks the cancer cells are part of the normal body and do not mount an immune response against the cancer. Cancer vaccines allow the immune system to recognize cancer cells as foreign and, therefore, get the immune system to attack the cancer cells.
Most commonly, vaccines are used to prevent infections. By introducing inactivated or killed forms of a virus or bacteria to the immune system before an infection actually occurs, the immune system is primed to recognize potential infections. Antibodies that are specific for the vaccine are increased in the body and allow for a very rapid response to potential infections by the viruses or bacteria associated with that vaccine. In this way, actual infections can be quickly recognized by the immune system and eliminated before a significant infection can take hold.
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