Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries grow at an unrestricted and accelerated rate. There is currently no vaccine for ovarian cancer. Some people think the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is for ovarian cancer, but it is a vaccine against cervical cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 19,880 females in the United States will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2022.

Ovarian cancer can cause symptoms such as:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain risk factors can increase a person’s likelihood of getting ovarian cancer. These include:

Vaccines contain substances that help the body’s immune system build resistance against specific infections. Some vaccines can contain a killed or weakened form of a virus or bacteria, which promotes the production of immune cells (antibodies). Other vaccines contain compounds derived from pathogens, such as proteins.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any vaccines for ovarian cancer. However, research into a vaccine is currently ongoing.

For example, researchers are investigating whether immunotherapy vaccine treatment will protect against ovarian cancer. Immunotherapy involves training the immune system to detect and protect against cancer cells.

This article will explore the progress in ovarian vaccine development and methods to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

This article will also clarify the confusion over the use of the HPV vaccine to prevent ovarian cancer.

Learn more about cancer here.

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The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). According to one source, there are more than 100 types of HPV, and at least 14 can cause cancer. It is a common STI that can transmit during vaginal or anal sex.

HPV 16 and 18 can cause cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the cervix. The cervix forms a canal between the uterus and the vagina.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HPV 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous lesions. HPV infection can also lead to cancer of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, and oropharynx.

Vaccines are currently available to protect against HPV. Currently, three HPV vaccines have a license for use in the United States. However, Gardasil 9 is the only HPV vaccine used in the United States. Gardasil 9 protects against 9 HPV types, including the cancer-causing HPV types 16 and 18.

The CDC recommends that people have two doses of the HPV vaccination at age 9–14 years and three doses at age 26–45 years for those who have not yet had the vaccination.

However, the efficacy of the HPV vaccine in protecting against certain cancer types may cause confusion.

The HPV vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of precancers and cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, and anus. Data from the Gardasil 9 also show that the vaccine effectively prevents cervical, vulvar, and vaginal infections caused by HPV 16 and 18.

However, the HPV vaccine does not protect against ovarian cancer.

Learn whether HPV and ovarian cancer have links here.

There is no vaccine for ovarian cancer. Doctors treat ovarian cancer using a combination of surgery to remove the cancer tissue and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy involves using drugs to either kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.

However, researchers are currently determining the potential of vaccines for the prevention of ovarian cancer.

Specifically, researchers have been investigating the effectiveness of immunotherapy to prevent ovarian cancer.

Immunotherapy involves several interventions, such as vaccines, boosting the immune system, and cell therapy. The primary goal of immunotherapy is to train the body’s immune cells to identify and attack cancer cells. These immune cells include cytotoxic T cells and tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL).

Ovarian cancer can cause local immune suppression in its microenvironment. There is an association between the presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes in the microenvironment of ovarian cancer and a better prognosis in people with ovarian cancer.

Learn the differences between chemotherapy and immunotherapy here.

One type of ovarian cancer vaccine option that researchers are exploring involves using dendritic immune cells. They present antigens to T cells which leads to their activation. Antigens are foreign substances that result in the activation of the immune system.

A 2021 review investigating the potential of ovarian cancer vaccines using dendritic cells found that they produced strong immunologic responses in participants. It notes that efficacy may improve when treatment involves combining dendritic cell vaccines with approved therapies for ovarian cancer, such as chemotherapy.

The review notes that a phase III trial investigating dendritic cell vaccines in ovarian cancer shows promise.

However, a 2020 review notes that researchers should be cautious when using dendritic cell vaccines in combination with other treatments, as some participants experienced adverse effects.

The review also notes that while dendritic cell vaccines can elongate tumor progression-free survival, the effect on overall survival is not significant. The review adds that the results warrant clinical trials with more participants to determine the benefits of dendritic cell vaccines.

Learn how the immune system works here.

Cancer-testis antigens (CTAs) are antigens that typically develop in testis tissue. However, they also develop in some cancers, such as ovarian cancer. Up to 40% of people with ovarian cancer express NY-ESO-1, a type of CTA.

Studies show that NY-ESO-1 vaccination increases immune cell response. However, many studies investigating this antigen only had a limited number of participants.

Learn more about antigens and antibodies here.

Some researchers are investigating the potential of protein-based vaccines and recombinant viral vaccines.

Protein-based vaccine targets have included the protein p53, a tumor suppressor protein that is overexpressed in many cancers, including ovarian cancer. However, these have shown a lack of clinical benefits.

Recombinant viral vaccines use modified viruses (viral vectors) to deliver the genetic material needed to code for an antigen. This triggers an immune response that primes the immune system to fight cancers.

A 2018 study utilizing a recombinant viral vaccine along with chemotherapy drugs found that there was an increase in participants’ immune response, as well as a subsequent longer progression-free survival. However, this was a very small study, and some participants had poor tolerance to the chemotherapy drug.

While many of these potential vaccines are in clinical trial stages, the FDA is yet to approve a vaccine for ovarian cancer.

Learn more about other cancer vaccines here.

While there is currently no sure way to prevent ovarian cancer, some methods may lower a person’s chance of getting ovarian cancer. The CDC indicates that the following factors may reduce a person’s risk of getting ovarian cancer:

  • having used birth control for 5 years or more
  • having undergone tubal ligation
  • having had both ovaries removed
  • having undergone a hysterectomy
  • having given birth
  • breastfeeding

A 2021 study found that depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) may decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer. It also notes that risk decreased further with increasing duration of depot use.

DMPA, also known as Depo-Provera, is a form of birth control. It inhibits the secretion of gonadotropins which inhibits ovulation. However, further research is needed and still underway, as DMPA can have serious side effects in some people.

The American Cancer Society also notes that birth control pills decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer for those with average risk and who carry the BRCA mutation. People who use birth control pills for longer than 5 years have a 50% lower chance of developing ovarian cancer.

A person should speak to their doctor before deciding to use birth control or another procedure to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer.

This is because each treatment option has benefits and risks. For example, birth control pills may slightly increase a person’s chance of getting breast cancer.

Learn more about the potential risks between birth control pills and breast cancer here.

Ovarian cancer occurs when the cells in the ovaries grow at an accelerated rate. This can lead to symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, pain, and bloating.

There is currently no vaccine for ovarian cancer. A person should not confuse the HPV vaccine as a vaccine for ovarian cancer. The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of developing cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, cervix, and throat but does not protect against ovarian cancer.

Clinical trials and studies are currently ongoing for ovarian cancer vaccines. Targets include dendritic cells, proteins, modified viruses, and cancer-testis antigens.

A person can reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer by using birth control pills or having depot injections.

However, a person should consult their doctor before using any preventive measures.