Immune system and tumors
The immune system is a set of cells and tissues that has the function of defending the body from foreign agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi but also from cells of the body that for some mutation take on a 'foreign' appearance, like cancer cells.
The main tools that the immune system uses to perform its functions are the lymphocytes (or white blood cells) that flow in the blood and lymph, thus reaching all areas of the body. The Natural Killer (NK) lymphocytes that have the role of destroying cancer cells are particularly important for their action against cancer.
A study by the University of Leeds (United Kingdom), published in Breast Cancer Research, investigated the effects of chemotherapeutic drugs on immune cells and antibodies, showing that the levels of some of these - B lymphocytes lymphocytes and a type of T lymphocytes , called T helper (CD4 + T) - remain altered even after nine months from the end of the therapy.
This results in the most common side effects of chemotherapy: myelosuppression (decrease in the production of blood cells, therefore also immunosuppression), mucositis (inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract) and alopecia (hair loss).
The study indicates that chemotherapy leads to an alteration of the cells of the immune system, which can last for more than 9 months. It has been known for years that patients receiving chemotherapy may be more susceptible to bacterial or viral infections due to the reduction of protective cells in their blood, and precautions in this regard are included in the treatment plans.
Not known was that the effect could last several months beyond the end of therapy. The implications of this result may be different. The authors suggest that a decrease in B cells (cells that produce antibodies) and a reduction in antibody levels against some infectious agents (pneumococcus, tetanus) may result in less protection against infections even for prolonged periods after the end of treatment .
The growth of Natural Killers lymphocytes can however be stimulated by the intake of Echinacea purpurea and other subspecies of the family of this plant, as demonstrated by a study. (Natural killer cells from aging mice treated with extracts from Echinacea purpurea are quantitatively and functionally rejuvenated. Currier NL1, Miller SC. PMID: 10978684)
The increase mediated by Echinacea purpurea in the number of NK cells was in fact parallel with an increase in their anti-tumor lithic functional capacity.