Cancer immunoprevention posits that the enhancement of immune defenses in healthy individuals could control tumor onset. Immunoprevention of viral tumors is already implemented at the population level for human hepatocellular and cervical carcinomas. Altogether, viral vaccines could prevent more than 10% of all human tumors. The big question is whether immunoprevention can be applied to nonviral tumors, including breast cancer. Promising results were obtained in preclinical models, in particular in HER-2/neu transgenic mice, which are prone to mammary carcinoma development, using vaccines against HER-2/neu oncoprotein p185. The life expectancy of vaccinated mice was more than doubled. Protective immune mechanisms elicited by effective vaccines were mainly based on helper T cell cytokines, in particular γ-interferon, and anti-p185 antibodies. The term "oncoantigens" was coined to define those antigenic molecules that, like HER-2, are indispensable for tumor growth, thus representing the best class of targets for cancer immunoprevention. The study of immunopreventive vaccines against subsequent phases of neoplastic progression showed a dramatic loss of efficacy against established mammary carcinomas, whereas the prevention of micrometastasis growth was successful. Preclinical results provide useful indications for the translation of cancer immunoprevention to humans, and useful hints for cancer immunotherapy.
© 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.