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Therapeutic cancer vaccines aim to generate immunologic targeting of cancer cells through the induction of effective cellular and antibody-mediated responses specific for antigens selectively expressed by the tumor. Exploiting the adaptive immune system as a targeted tool against cancer is appealing in its capacity for exact specificity and avoidance of unintended tissue damage seen by other conventional agents such as chemotherapy. There are a multitude of challenges to designing effective vaccine strategies. The components of a vaccine strategy start with the challenges of selecting immunogenic, tumor-specific antigen targets, choosing a platform with which to deliver the antigens, and enhancing the immunostimulatory context in which the vaccines are delivered. Although understanding the components of effective T-cell activation is essential, successful effector T cells can only be produced if there is also an understanding of the natural processes that tumors exploit to down-modulate active immune responses. These processes are normally used to down-regulate excessive tissue-destructive immune responses against infectious agents once the infecting agent is cleared or to prevent autoimmunity. Advances in molecular and cellular technologies continue to provide insights into the regulation of immune responses both to infectious agents and to cancer that may be manipulated to tip the balance in favor of tumor regression over immune tolerance. This review focuses primarily on cellular vaccines. For the purpose of this review, cellular vaccines are defined as vaccines that use whole cells or cell lysates either as the source of antigens or the platform in which to deliver the antigens. Dendritic cell (DC)-based vaccines focus on ex vivo antigen delivery to DCs. Other platforms such as GVAX (tumor cells genetically engineered to produce granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor) aim to deliver tumor antigens in vivo in an immune stimulatory context to endogenous DCs. Because data continue to emerge regarding the importance of the maturation status of DCs and the importance of the particular subset of DCs being targeted, these insights will be integrated into vaccine strategies that are likely to produce more effective vaccines.