But cancer vaccines are now being designed to teach the body's natural defenses to recognize and kill those cells before they cause the cancer to come back. Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports for The Early Show
Bob Stryker is a rare breed, a lung cancer survivor. His cancer was aggressive and the kind that almost always comes back after treatment. And his chances of long-term survival were slim.
"I was sure I was going to die. I tried to put on a brave front for my wife and my family, but inside I was very very frightened," says Stryker.
After radiation put Stryker's disease into remission, his doctors suggested an experimental vaccine to try to prevent the cancer from returning. And it worked.
"I really received a second chance at life; it's [been] seven years now, and my lung doctor calls me Nine Lives," he says.
Cancer vaccines are designed to get the body's own immune system to destroy the small number of cancer cells left after treatment.
These cells are undetectable and often cause cancer to reoccur. Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York are busy identifying different characteristics of cancer cells that the immune system can be trained to recognize and target.
"We can get 99.99 percent of the cells, but we know that in some cases there's a couple of cells left over. Let's stimulate the immune system to mop up any remaining cells, " says Dr. Paul Chapman of Sloan-Kettering.
The idea is to build a library of vaccines against many different cancers.
For Patty Seely, any weapon is worth trying. She is receiving a new vaccine developed to prevent her breast cancer from reoccurring.
"I'm praying and hoping that it will work for meÂ….Kind of like Pac-Man, you know, go in there, eat up if there's anything leftover in there, just really boost my immune system," Seely says.
And people like Stryker make that hope worth believing in. For him, no opportunity is missed to enjoy his extended lease on life.
"I never thought I would live to see my granddaughter Claudia born, and she's 6 years old now, and I'm very lucky," he says.
These vaccines will become available when the clinical trials are completed and if Food and Drug Administration approval is granted, not likely until a couple of years.
For more about recent developments in cancer treatment, click here.
And for more information on cancer research and general information visit the National Cancer Institute.
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