The main medical use of vaccines is to induce a state of immunity in healthy individuals to protect them from deadly or dangerous diseases. In the field of cancer immunology, however, vaccines are being used in patients as therapy, often with a very poor success rate against advanced disease. This paper reviews recent preclinical evidence in favor of the prophylactic use of immunological approaches to cancer. Successful attempts at immunological cancer prevention in HER-2/neu transgenic mice are described as an example. The specific properties of the HER-2/neu gene product as a tumor antigen, and the nature of the immune responses induced by effective preventive treatments are reviewed. Although the very high rate of mammary carcinoma prevention in mice has generated enthusiasm, it should not be forgotten that such treatments, when administered to healthy humans at risk of cancer, may carry the risk of inducing autoimmunity. These issues can be addressed in preclinical studies in appropriate animal models.