Tell me about ovarian cancer vaccines that are supposed to prevent recurrence of ovarian cancer. Do they work?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

Research continues in the development of a number of vaccines designed to prevent the recurrence of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer vaccines are available only in clinical trials.

Ovarian cancer vaccines are a type of immunotherapy, which is treatment that harnesses the body's germ-fighting immune system to attack cancer cells. Researchers hope to use ovarian vaccines to train the immune system cells to detect and attack any cancer cells that reappear after initial treatment has been completed.

Ovarian cancer vaccines being studied include:

  • Abagovomab. This vaccine has been shown to elicit an immune response in women with ovarian cancer, but it's not clear that this leads to longer survival.
  • Oregovomab. This vaccine also has been tested in women and has been shown to elicit an immune response. But one study showed no difference in the recurrence rate in women who got oregovomab as compared with women who received a placebo.

Researchers are studying other cancer vaccines and other types of immunotherapy for use in women with ovarian cancer.

Surgery followed by chemotherapy remains the standard primary treatment for ovarian cancer. Researchers also are studying how cancer vaccines are best used in combination with chemotherapy and other treatments.

Although research has shown that ovarian cancer vaccines may hold promise, these studies have involved only small numbers of participants. More and larger studies are needed to further evaluate the potential role that vaccines may play in preventing recurrent ovarian cancer.

Mar. 12, 2015