The only connection between vaccines and cancer is HPV, right?
May 16, 2010 1:04 AM   Subscribe

What evidence is there, of any sort from any time, which links vaccines, either human or animal, to cancer?

Tonight I found out a few of my friends are anti-vaccine, at least partially. I handled the standard autism argument easily. But then they floored me with their absolute confidence that vaccines are linked to cancer. One is a vet tech and said "We give animals vaccines in their legs, so if they get cancer we can just amputate".

Their claims were completely unspecific. They couldn't say whether it was just animal vaccines, or even whether this was something from the past or ongoing. But one was certain our U.S. government backed findings linking vaccines to cancer.

I promised them I would do some research, which hasn't turned up anything substantial. So, does this link exist, or do you know what they could have been thinking of?
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Best answer: Well, there is the almighty SV40 fuckup - A virus (SV40) known to cause cancer was in the monkey cells used to grow the polio vaccine, and was probably inoculated into populations of upto 10 million people up until 1962, and longer in the soviet bloc. I would imagine this is where the rumor comes from. I don't know of anything that could potentially cause cancer now.
posted by scodger at 1:19 AM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: They are probably referring to feline vaccination-associated fibrosarcomas, related to certain types of rabies and feline leukemia vaccines. It changed the protocol of selecting a vaccination site between the shoulders to a limb. More at Wikipedia.
posted by jamaro at 1:21 AM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's not superstition it's a well known effect of the current commercial vaccines. I don't vaccinate my pets after age 1 or 2 for this reason. By then they have immunity to what they need to have immunity to.

FWIW a vet told me this in the mid 80s I don't think this is a newly discovered phenomenon. That was not in the US though.
posted by fshgrl at 1:22 AM on May 16, 2010

Except for rabies, I do vaccinate for that but I do the 3-year protocol.
posted by fshgrl at 1:22 AM on May 16, 2010

Nonsense. There's nothing about the fundamentals of a vaccine that would cause cancer (challenging the immune system to provoke a stronger response to the real thing). In fact, every time you touch an object, drink from a glass, open your eyes, put food in your mouth, breath in, or in any way interact with the outside world, you're stressing your immune system. It's constantly responding to foreign bodies, and the load a vaccine puts on it is pretty minimal.

As for the preservatives in these vaccines... they're proven safe. In the modern world we constantly expose our bodies to so many materials that have been shown to cause cancer that it's silly to worry about vaccine preservatives that (in the quantities present) have not been shown to be dangerous.

Also, we now have vaccines that do exactly the opposite: prevent cancer! The hepatitis B vaccine has been linked to a reduction in liver cancer. The HPV vaccine has been linked to a reduction in cervical cancer, and might lead to a reduction in anal cancer in homosexual men (if it can get approved for men at all). Current research is looking at H. pylori and stomach cancer... it's possible we'll have a vaccine soon to reduce that also.

Finally, to answer the vet tech's concerns. Many of our live stock and pets (especially the pure breeds) are so inbred that they have a natural disposition to cancer.
posted by sbutler at 1:32 AM on May 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

As highlighted in previous comments there exists some correlation between animal vaccines and cancer. However when discussing vaccine risks with a skeptic, the existence of a correlation should not be the center of the discussion, since there is evidence either way. Instead, the statistical/probabilistic argument should be used, comparing the respective health risks of both avoiding vaccines and using them.

Not using vaccines increases risks and overall health costs, regardless of cancer issues. Or, put the other way, whichever cancer risks exist have been minimized by vaccine research below the threshold where it becomes overall advantageous to take the vaccine.
posted by knz at 2:32 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The HPV vaccine has been linked to a reduction in cervical cancer, and might lead to a reduction in anal cancer in homosexual men (if it can get approved for men at all).

It's been approved for men in the US, though only through age 26 (same as in women).
posted by shiny blue object at 5:28 AM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: The issue with the pet vaccines causing animals cancer has nothing to do with the fundamental properties of how a vaccine works. The reason there was a problem was specifically due to adjuvants present in the vaccines. You could make a (very weak) argument that the induction of inflammation at the site of the needle track could change the cellular microenvironment such that cancer is more likely to flourish, but that kind of thing is so rare that they haven't really been able to establish a causal relationship.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:39 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Uh...we don't give pets vaccines in their legs. Vaccines are given subcutaneously in the torso (shoulders, hips, etc.).

There is a link in cats to vaccines (rabies in particular) and fibrosarcoma.
posted by biscotti at 6:59 AM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: The only connection between vaccines and cancer is HPV, right?


Dr. Larry Kwak of MD Anderson Cancer Center was just named to Time's 100 Most Influential People for his vaccine for follicular lymphoma. Here's a case where a vaccine is a personally customized cure.

From the linked article:
The crucial component of the vaccine is a receptor protein extracted from the patient's malignant B cell lymphocytes and purified in large amounts, thereby allowing customization of each patient's vaccine from their own tumor - the ultimate in personalized therapy, said Kwak. The protein is combined with a delivery agent and an adjuvant growth factor and the whole cocktail is injected back into the patient.

"With our positive clinical trial, I think we finally have our foot in the door. That opens up a whole host of opportunities for further optimizing the therapy and really bringing it to reality for patients," said Kwak. "The first 20 years were spent taking the home-grown laboratory product into patients, now we're in the phase of taking patient material back into the laboratory to further dissect the mechanism and look for biomarkers. Hopefully, that information will guide us as we design future clinical trials for patients."

Kwak's findings may be applicable to other types of cancers, as well as a broader range of patients, not only those that achieve remission, but possibly those with advanced cancer, could also benefit from such vaccine therapies. In addition, Kwak's team is currently designing a trial for a preclinical lymphoma condition.


This is a big deal. Here's a vaccine that is specifically designed to fight your cancer by using your cancers very one biomarkers. The direction of vaccines and cancer is going toward CURE. And not just for HPV.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:20 AM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

that's '...using your cancers very OWN biomarkers.' sorry.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:23 AM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: Disclaimer: I am a proponent of veterinary vaccines and boosters (but am cool with titer checks).

OP, although everyone's an expert on the internet, as someone working in veterinary education, I can confirm that jamaro's link is pretty darn good, and provides a good overview of the situation--though more research into the phenomenon has been done in the years since. Your friend the veterinary technician simply may not have a clear understanding of the phenomenon she's trying to avoid.

biscotti, I think it just depends on if you define 'shoulder' as 'limb/leg.' Despite the rarity of feline vaccine-associated fibrosarcoma, vet students are now taught to administer vaccinations for small animals on the 'upper' limbs (usually the shoulder, though other sites may be used) because if your pet is one of the profoundly unlucky few, amputation can be curative. Although dogs /=cats, the site administration taught in veterinary school (and veterinary technician programs) has changed for them as well. I suspect it's both to be as cautious as possible, and for simplicity's sake.

sickinthehead, I've heard the local inflammation theory thrown around up here, but as you said, it's an uncommon enough reaction that causal relationships have been extremely difficult to establish.

posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:04 AM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: An interesting paper:
The high incidence of fibrosarcoma in domestic cats, their relatively low age at incidence, and a number of other factors suggest the possibility of a genetic predisposition for fibrosarcoma in this species. These factors include observations of tumor development in cats following other types of inflammatory injuries such as ocular trauma (Woog et al. 1983; Dubielzig 1984; Dubielzig et al. 1990); anecdotal reports of fibrosarcoma development at locations where other drugs or vitamins have been injected (Esplin et al. 1999); observations of tumor development at suture-sites and nonhealing wounds (Buracco et al. 2002); occasional development of tumors in multiple related members; and the occasional development of multiple tumors in individual cats. Because cancer is a complex disease with both hereditary and environmental factors contributing to etiology and disease progression, it is possible that both germ-line predisposing factors (genetics) and inflammation at the vaccination site (environment) enhance the development of VAFS. As a first step to testing this hypothesis, we have examined polymorphic sites in feline p53 for possible association with a predisposition to VAFS. We here present the results of our investigation that demonstrate the existence of strongly associated germ-line markers of predisposition to the disease.
I am by no means an expert, but it seems possible that (as sbutler said above), cats are so inbred that some are predisposed to injury-based tumors, irregardless of the cause.

Ask the vet tech why dogs don't get these tumors if vaccines themselves are the cause.
posted by benzenedream at 11:05 AM on May 16, 2010

Dogs do get the tumors and pursue has postulates a reason why. I posted a link to the paper above.

There us also a cancer vaccine of some sort available for dogs but I can't remember the details. They use it on purebreds with a predisposition to some kind of tumor.

People who dismiss this as "superstitious" because they dismiss all concerns related to vaccines as bumpkus should knock it off. Read the studies before making sweeping statements. Also look at standards of care outside the AVMA for perestroika sake.
posted by fshgrl at 11:17 AM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: fshgrl: I wasn't able to find any mention of vaccine-induced dog tumors beyond the Italian 2003 study mentioned in your links and wikipedia. Other places I looked said "Dogs are so rarely affected by this phenomenon that it is considered of no realistic significance. Vaccine-induced fibrosarcomas seem to be a feline problem only."

Dogs do get the tumors and pursue has postulates a reason why. I posted a link to the paper above.

I assume you mean the Purdue study mentioned at Vaccination Liberation? It refers to this page:

We were fortunate that prominent and respected researchers, Drs. Larry T. Glickman, Harm HogenEsch, Juan I. Azona-Olivera, J. Catherine Scott-Montcrieff, and Paul W. Snyder of Purdue University, School of Veterinary Medicine, agreed to undertake the study. The results are enlightening and they are enthusiastically working on the second phase, a study of longer duration... The vaccinated group developed significant levels of autoantibodies against: fibronectin, laminin, DNA, albumin, Cytochrome C, transferrin, cardiolipin, collagen.

Assuming this summary of the research is correct, it is about the possibility for vaccines to cause autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, thyroiditis, etc., in dogs, and not about injection site cancers. The latest paper from Glickman and HogenEsch is the simply named "Lack of association between repeated vaccination and thyroiditis in laboratory Beagles."

If you have any better info or links about dog site specific cancers please post it.

I do agree with you regarding frequency of vaccination - yearly vaccination seems to be overkill when the antibody responses seem to be maintained much longer than that.
posted by benzenedream at 10:46 PM on May 16, 2010

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