How Being Exhausted Effects Cancer Treatments

By: Bel Marra Health | Cancer | Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 04:18 AM

immune systemWhen someone is diagnosed with cancer, naturally the first reaction is shock and fear. Oncologists say these emotions are normally followed by questions like, “Where do we go from here? How do we treat it?” Attacking those cancer cells is top priority, but when cell exhaustion becomes an issue, it appears that the battle becomes much harder.


Treatments Said to Destroy Cancer Cells: The Study

A lot has been written in both medical and pharmaceutical journals about the use of interleukin-12 in the fight against cancer. Interleukin is a group of protein molecules secreted by cells. They are responsible for intercellular communication. Errors in cell communication lead to disease such as cancer, diabetes and a number of auto immune ailments. The medical community pinned a lot of hope in the injection of interleukin into cancer patients. The idea is that the treatments will improve the body’s natural immune system response and help destroy damaging cancer cells.  Unfortunately, a recent investigation says otherwise.

A study undertaken by the esteemed Mayo Clinic revealed that treating cancerous tumors with interleukin-12 led the intercellular fighters to exhaustion thus curbing the body’s ability to attack cancer cells. The study also showed that the same cell exhaustion that aggravates immune cells during viral infections also has an impact on cancer cells during long fights with the disease.

Immune Cells Designed to Destroy Cancer Cells

The Mayo study focused on non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Biopsies were taken from the patients and although the immune cells are genetically designed to destroy cancer cells, they co-existed with them instead. The findings left the researchers wondering if the problem known as T cell exhaustion is largely to blame. T cell exhaustion occurs a lot following chronic infections and during tumor growth. Countless studies have shown that T cell exhaustion prevents the control of tumors.

Researchers say they must figure out a way to reverse the state of exhaustion so that the immune system can be stimulated and the body can get to work fighting the cancer cells.

Many scientists believe that cancer risk with cell exhaustion is much higher in those who have already fought the disease and appear to have beaten it. They also suspect people who suffer from chronic viral infections have a higher cancer risk.

Further Investigation on Cancer Risk

There have been some previous studies that have questioned the effect of exhaustion on cancer treatments. For example, interleukin-12 induced exhaustion has been associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer in H pylori infected patients. H pylori is chronic inflammation of the lining of the stomach and can lead to painful ulcers.

The Mayo study opens up an important subject for further investigation. What other treatments aside from Interleukin-12 could be triggering cell exhaustion? Are other factors contributing to cell exhaustion? How can the exhaustion be reversed?  The scientific community is determined to answer these and many other questions about the devastating disease through vigorous study.


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