It is a common question in the minds of many people who are concerned about cancer, recently diagnosed with it or have a loved one with a malignancy. The answer is quite simply YES. Your immune system is constantly fighting cancer.

Every second of every day your immune defences are identifying and destroying any “abnormal” cells that may be cancerous. The notion of the immune system keeping cancer at bay is not just the belief of the complementary health fraternity – it is an established medical fact (1, 2).

Effective But Not Foolproof

immune systemHowever, our immune system may not be able function as effective ‘cancer busters’ throughout life. Its efficiency depends on the type of cancer in question, a person’s genetic predisposition, risk factors and general state of health. Age is another major factor.

The reason why the immune system fails to act in some situations and allow cancer to develop can therefore not be clearly answered. But there is no doubt that the immune system plays a central role in protecting the body against cancer. It is now understood that its role is equally significant in eradicating malignancies in cancer patients.

Cancer treatment involves several treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. These methods remove the cancer or destroy it chemically or electromagnetically. However, newer treatments are now using the immune system to find and destroy the cancer.

Cancer In HIV/AIDS

We can see how cancer is more likely to arise when the immune system fails to act if we look at people living with HIV and AIDS patients. In HIV/AIDS, the weakened immune system is unable to protect the body as it should. This opens the body to a host of infections and cancers.

There are many HIV-related cancers but one of the most commonly talked about is Kaposi sarcoma. It was such a rare cancer that in the past that many medical practitioners never saw a single case in their career. But with the HIV/AIDS epidemic Kaposi sarcomas have become relatively common.

When this cancer occurs it is so likely to be in a person living with HIV that Kaposi sarcoma is now considered to be an AIDS-defining condition. This means that if a person with HIV develops Kaposi sarcoma, they are diagnosed with AIDS irrespective of their immune state (CD4 cell count and viral load).

Immune Boosting Cancer Drugs

The value of the immune system in preventing and even fighting cancer cannot be understated. Medical science has come to realise the benefits of this innate healing mechanism and pharmaceutical drugs have been developed for this purpose. Immune modulation is not new in cancer therapy.

Recent breakthroughs have brought hope that someday modern medicine will rely more on the immune system than chemotherapy and radiotherapy, both of which are effective in treating cancer but leads to debilitating side effects due to the toxicity.

These newer cancer drugs that use the immune system as the means to fight off cancer and ‘cancer vaccines’ are still being researched but the results thus far are promising. However, it does once again reaffirm the thinking of what conventional and traditional medicine have known for a long time – the immune system can indeed prevent and eradicate cancer.

Cancer-Fighting Immune System

The immune system is in a constant state of flux. Its activity increases when the body is under threat and then remains in an active but slightly lower state when there is no threat at hand. Sometimes the immune system dips, not only due to other present illnesses, but also due to changes in the environment and alterations in nutritional status. Immune activity is even linked to mental and emotional stress.

As with any part of of the body, the immune system needs to be maintained and conditioned in order to keep functioning optimally. While new drugs hold much promise, the key is always prevention. By keeping your immune system functioning at its peak activity, you may indeed be protecting yourself against cancer in much the same way as you can avoid the flu or other infections (3).

However, the immune system is dependent on a range of factors and no single pill will boost your immune system and keep it at a heightened state indefinitely. Instead it requires a combination of diet, lifestyle, stress management and nutritional supplements to ensure that your immune system is geared to protect you at all times.

While the research is still inconclusive, there are a number of cases reported where people were able to ‘cure’ themselves of cancer through the practice of techniques like visualization, like the case of David Seidler, the Oscar winning screenwriter (4). Such therapies must ultimately depend on the immune system’s ‘seek-and-destroy’ ability to eradicate the cancer cells within a person.

The cancer-fighting ability of the immune system should not discourage cancer patients from undergoing tried and tested treatments. The battle against cancer is ongoing and conditioning the immune system goes hand-in-hand with medical and surgical treatment.

As any experienced oncologist will verify, a cancer patient who is positive and optimistic tends to respond better to treatment. Ultimately a positive mental attitude and emotional state is known to directly affect the functioning of the immune system.

References:

  1. Immune-system therapy may help leukemia. Health24.com
  2. Promising New Cancer Drugs Empower the Body’s Own Defense System. New York Times
  3. Training the Immune System to Fight Cancer. Mayo Clinic
  4. Can you imagine cancer away? CNN
  5. Boost the immune system to fight cancer. IOL