The Role Played by the Immune System in Cancer


A healthy immune system in cancer treatment is essential There is strong evidence to suggest that the role played by the immune system in cancer prevention is an active one. However research also suggests that the tumors may evade the immune system’s defenses.

In a set of experiments involving mice which lacked working lymphocytes, Schreiber and his colleagues at Washington University and Memorial Sloan-Keterring Cancer Center in New York demonstrated that the immune system does appear to play some role in the prevention of the growth of tumors. The role of the immune system in cancer prevention and treatment is an important one.

Tumors developed earlier and more frequently in mice without lymphocytes than in mice with normal immune systems. Although the research confirms that the immune system is involved in suppressing tumors, its precise role is different than previously thought.

The immune system destroys cancerous cells when it recognizes proteins or other markers expressed by tumor cells. This is an important role of the immune system in cancer prevention. However tumor cells can also develop resistance to the attacks of the immune system just as bacteria can towards antibiotics. Tumor cells may evade the immune system’s defenses by no longer expressing the proteins that the immune system uses to identify tumors. This explains why some tumors transferred from mice without immune systems continued to grow when they were placed in healthy mice, as reported in Nature (2001; 410:1107-1111).

The Role of Cortisol Regarding the Immune System in Cancer

Many chronic illnesses such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and allergies, have an autoimmune component attached, i.e. the immune system attacks its own tissues. These illnesses are also indicative of adrenal fatigue. Conventional medicine often, in a bid to treat these illnesses, often resort to prescribing cortisol. The problem with this is that too much cortisol actually results in the very illnesses they are trying to treat.

The thymus gland, one of the important immune tissues in your body, tends to shrink due to repeated stress and resultantly the immune system is suppressed. Cortisol plays a direct role in this while inhibiting the production of white blood cells and their usual activity, i.e. the secretion of chemical messages allowing immune-system cells to communicate effectively in order to fight off infections. Cortisol also signals immune cells to shut off.

But why does cortisol do this? It is, after all, the body’s first response when under stress, and is not called the stress hormone for nothing.

It is all about timing. Under normal circumstances, when the body is submitted to stress, the cortisol actually boosts immune functions. This is normally for the short term.

A prolonged stress response, on the other hand, causes chaos. Chronic stress sees cortisol levels remaining elevated, and the immune system starting to suffer. The body’s automatic stress response is geared towards survival, and therefore the production of cortisol. Thus the immune systems cells start breaking down and are unable to fight any infections. Sometimes, they even start exhibiting destructive behavior on their own body’s tissue. The result is illnesses that are commonly seen as symptoms of someone with an adrenal malfunction, or in other words, adrenal fatigue.

These compromised immune system cells sometimes referred to as ‘natural killer cells’, usually follow exposure to long-term stress of various kinds. Different types of cancer have been linked to these killer cells, such as breast cancer, for example. A disastrous example of the immune system in cancer development.

Studies have shown that not only do these killer cells result in cancer, but that cortisol actually promotes the synthesis of blood vessels in cancerous tumors, thereby causing accelerated growth.

The bottom line, therefore, is that constant stress whether of a physical or psychological nature both accelerates cancer growth while inhibiting the body’s ability to fight it.

Giving the Immune System a Natural Boost by Lowering Cortisol Levels Naturally

Basil and the immune system in cancer preventionThe link between stress and the immune system in cancer development has been studied many times with the same finding. There is little doubt that weak immunity is an invitation for cancerous cells to proliferate. A strong immune system is one of the key components of longevity and cancer prevention. Anti-oxidants such as vitamin C strengthen the immune system. Adequate rest, proper diet, stress-free life, and exercise all go towards enhancing our immune mechanism and should not be overlooked.

Consider the following to fight stress and get cortisol levels down:

  • Get enough sleep. It gives your adrenals a break and resets your circadian rhythms, thereby bringing your hormones into balance.
  • Use adaptogen herbs in your diet if you are strong and in good health. These include basil, ginseng, Rhodiola, astragalus, and certain mushrooms (reishi and cordyceps). These help lower cortisol while balancing hormones. They also play a role in balancing blood sugar and blood pressure, while showing antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and antidepressant abilities.
  • Identify, reduce, and manage your stress. Reduced psychological stress means less cortisol production.
  • Take part in regular, moderate exercise. It helps manage stress while balancing hormones and helping with certain meta

A healthy immune system in cancer treatment is essential