If we can make RNA vaccines against COVID-19 and we know which errors in our DNA leads to different kinds of cancer, can we make a vaccine that will teach our immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells?

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    $\begingroup$ The question is akin to "is it possible to make vaccine against viruses?" - for some viruses the answer is yes, for others no. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ what I am saying is that there are throusands of kinds of cancer, just as there are thousands (or millions) of viruses... in fact, many of them we don't even know yet. A claim that all viruses/cancers can be cured is impossible to prove, but easy to disprove. See also Faulty generalization. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ This is not a direct answer to your question, but perhaps an interesting comment: Cancer has many different underlying causes. One of those are viral infections, such as certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus), which are known to induce several different types of cancer (cervical, anal, vaginal ...). HPV vaccine already exists, and it does indeed provide protection against HPV-induced cancer. Therefore, this is – as your title asks – a type of vaccine against cancer :-) $\endgroup$
    – Domen
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris I did not mean specifically the cancers caused by viruses, but I see now how my phrasing could be confusing. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ @DWGKNZ "then don't smoke" - if technology gives us ability to smoke without hurt, why not? $\endgroup$
    – Robotex
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 14:09

2 Answers 2


It is not only possible, these vaccines are in active development. Biontech (the company which developed the Comirnaty Corona vaccine) was founded to develop vaccines against cancer, Moderna is developing similar approaches. It was the research on the cancer vaccines and the development of the mRNA vaccine approach in general made the fast vaccine development for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine possible.

Biontech has published results of a mRNA based cancer vaccine against melanomna in the summer of 2020 (reference 1) which shows promising results, Moderna has shown data from a phase I study on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (reference 2). See references 3 and 4 for an overview over the topic.


  1. An RNA vaccine drives immunity in checkpoint-inhibitor-treated melanoma
  2. Moderna Announces Clinical Updates on Personalized Cancer Vaccine Program
  3. mRNA vaccine for cancer immunotherapy
  4. mRNA vaccines — a new era in vaccinology

Might not be the answer you're looking for, but there's already a vaccine for one particular type of cancer - cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is largely caused by a virus though (HPV, Human papillomavirus). See Wiki.

Three HPV vaccines (Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix) reduce the risk of cancerous or precancerous changes of the cervix and perineum by about 93% and 62%, respectively. The vaccines are between 92% and 100% effective against HPV 16 and 18 up to at least 8 years.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that, if I understand correctly, this is not a vaccine against cancer. It is a vaccine against a virus that can cause cancer but not against the cancer itself. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ @terdon, one of the users argued the same in his (now deleted) answer. However, would you then by the same arguing say that "COVID-19 vaccine" is not a vaccine against COVID-19 because it is a vaccine against the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19? $\endgroup$
    – Domen
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Domen The question specifically asks "can we make a vaccine that will teach our immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells?". If these HPV vaccines attack the virus, rather than the cells, then this is not what the OP wanted to know. Which is why this answer starts with "Might not be the answer you're looking for", I guess. It's still a useful answer, but the distinction that terdon pointed out is important. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Domen: COVID-19 is a syndrome that's a direct result of infection with SARS-CoV-2. You don't get COVID-19 without SARS-CoV-2 infection, and if you have SARS-CoV-2 infection, you have COVID-19; the distinction is semantic hairsplitting. HPV causes genital warts (sometimes), but it's lingering damage from HPV that sometimes leads to cancer (of various forms) down the line (years after you've cleared the HPV itself in many cases); you can still get those cancers without HPV, and you can get HPV without getting those cancers. The vaccine stops HPV, it only indirectly protects against cancer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @domen that is a false analogy. Cancer is not caused by pathogens per-se, it is caused by aberrations in the cell's DNA sequence. The link between a virus and the disease it causes is far more direct and the vaccine that targets the virus is actively targetting that virus and, by extension, the associated disease. However, the HPV vaccine will have absolutely no protective effect from developing cervical cancer through random mutation (as is usually the case with cancers) and not as a result of HPV infection. [cont...] $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 17:41

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