Think Tank

Defense Mechanisms Against Cancer

Defence mechanisms against cancer

Cancer can be controlled and prevented in several ways. Understanding the defence mechanisms your body can use against it, can really help you understand the disease and protect yourself in the long run.

Defence mechanisms against cancer

How does cancer occur?

When the cells of your body become cancerous, your immune system sees this as an abnormality, and immediately destroys it before the cells spread or replicate. Cancer generally occurs in those patients whose immune system is impaired or damaged. This could include patients suffering with AIDS or those who receive immunosuppressive drugs. Older people who have lesser immunity than younger people or those who have autoimmune disorders could also be prone to cancer. Cancer may however, escape the protective surveillance of the immune system and spread.

Cancer also occurs due to a number of risk factors like smoking, tobacco chewing and alcohol amongst other reasons like infections (hepatitis B and C, Human Papilloma virus (cervical cancer). These risk factors damage the DNA in the cell, cause mutations, which are ireeversible , which ultimately makes the cell have an unfair growth advantage. Due to this the cell growth has no control and it also develops new properties of having its own blood supply for growth and also spreads to nearby tissues and organs.

What are antigens?

Antigens are foreign substances which are targeted for destruction by your immune system. If your cells become cancerous, new antigens appear on their surfaces. The immune system is capable of containing the spread of these tumor antigens, and can also destroy them. However, once the cancerous cells reproduce to a certain extent and form a sizeable chunk, the immune system of the body can be overwhelmed.

Tumor antigens and tumor makers

Tumor antigens are of various types, including malignant melanoma. There are a few tumor antigens that can be identified with the help of blood tests. They are often called tumor markers.They are useful in the treatment of diseases like Prostate cancer (PSA), Ovarian cancer (CA 125), Colon cancer (CEA), and Pancreatic cancer (CA 19.9). The measurement of these markers can be used at diagnosis and to evaluate the response of the patient to treatment. One caveat to be considered, however, is thattumor markers can be elevated in non-cancerous conditions also.

New methods that fight cancer

A new method for treating diseases like pancreatic cancer has been found by researchers. It involves drugs which break down the barrier surrounding the cancer tumour in the pancreas. This in turn enables the cancer attacking T cells to go through. The drug is often used with an antibody which blocks the second target and helps the activity of the T cells to improve. Tests and research carried out at Cambridge University, UK resulted in complete elimination of cancer cells within a week.

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