From very early on, researchers and doctors have dreamed of using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. The big question has been why doesn’t the immune system attack the tumor cells that invade healthy tissue?

The really good news is that finally science is catching up with this vision.

Therapeutic cancer vaccines that can actually activate a patient’s immune system against a cancer and help prevent a recurrence are finally starting to become a reality. Our hope is that we will be able to achieve the early promise of cancer vaccines and use them as a part of our standard arsenal in fighting cancer.

“We really are in a transformative moment,’’ said Dr. Glenn Dranoff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a medical oncologist and immunologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Men with advanced prostate cancer have been the first to realize a benefit from immunotherapy with the vaccine Provenge, a therapeutic vaccine that recently received federal approval. The results of the critical phase 3 trial showed that Provenge both was safe and extended survival in men with advanced prostate cancer

Not too long after the approval of Provenge another cancer vaccine received FDA approval, Yervoy (ipilimumab). It was approved for people with metastatic melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. Cancer generally limits the body’s immune response to a tumor; Yervoy turns the immune system back on, enhancing the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells. Yer