Current excitement about cancer immunotherapy is the result of unprecedented clinical impact from immune checkpoint inhibitors, particularly those that target programmed death (PD)-1 and PD-ligand (L)-1. Numerous other immunotherapeutics are also finding their way into the clinic either alone or in combination, and these have potential applications in many cancer types. Therapeutic cancer vaccines have been a major focus for many pioneers in the field yet have largely failed to live up to expectations as game-changing immunotherapeutics. This, despite decades of focussed efforts that have identified antigens, optimised adjuvants and refined approaches to pre-clinical modelling and clinical monitoring. If antigen-directed immunotherapeutics are to take a place in the anti-cancer therapeutic armamentarium, it will be crucial to understand the potential niche that could be occupied by cancer vaccines that can specifically induce or modify immune response against cancer antigens.