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Cancer cell environment vs. human immune system


The normal cells in the human body when starts growing or multiplying in uncontrollable fashion then it is called cancer 1. Over the time research has shown that a sudden genetic defect can cause cancer 2,3.  It is also possible to have these genetic abnormalities through inheritance. However, researchers have also identified many different factors including chemicals or microorganisms can be a possible cause of cancer development 3,4.

It has become a daunting task for many scientists to find out what is the role of our immune system in cancer development. Why our immune system cannot prevent cancer cells to grow? What are the odds of a healthy person getting cancer? Ideally, the human immune system should repair and/or prevent any kind of damage to human cells that are affecting the normal body function.  However, in spite of a good immunity we do get different diseases including cancer and this has been an ongoing challenge how to improve our immune system to prevent cancer 5.

Long history as major disease

Cancer has a long history of being one of the major diseases of human civilization. Therefore, there are many traditional preventive and treatment methods have been proposed other than the modern medicine 6-8.

It has also been observed that many bacteria and viruses are also associated with different cancer development in human 4,9,10.
The real question is if we can prevent these bacteria, virus or other environmental factors and also develop our immune system such way so that it can prevent any internal damage and combat disease like cancer? Scientists has approached this issue in many different ways.

Traditional Chinese medicine

For an example, in traditional Chinese medicine, there are several reported compounds that help in preventing cancers 11. Following research suggested that there are many pharmaceutical agents isolated from medicinal leech, earthworm, and Chinese Scorpion, and from herbal medicines derived from species such as Cordyceps militaris, Ganoderma, Momordica cochinchinensis, Viscum album, Poria cocos, Senna obtusifolia, Panax notoginseng, Smilax glabra, Ginkgo biloba, Dioscorea batatas, and Trichosanthes kirilowii compound has some anti cancer effect against many different cancers 12,13 .

Likewise, there are many natural products that have an anti-cancer property which might help to prevent the cancer cells to grow and proliferate 14,15. However, those compounds are not very well studied regarding their exact property, therapeutic dose, availability based on geographical area etc.

Scientists strongly believe that the human immune system can prevent cancer cells to grow

Irrespective of the conventional treatment method of cancers, scientists strongly believe that if the human immune system can prevent cancer cells to grow or even eliminate them to come back. Over the years many researchers have tried to boost the human system to prevent cancers.

This is also called Immunotherapy 16. In this treatment, the human immune system is used to prevent or treat cancer. This works exactly way human immune system fight against any bacteria or other pathogens. In this case, researcher use different human immune cells or cell product like types of white blood cell (T cells), antibody, cytokines etc to provide some extra help the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Prevention as a treatment strategy

Like vaccination, this is a similar kind of treatment strategy where patient’s immune systems are activated to kill cancerous cells and also prevent them from coming back 17. Because of its unique approach, it has become increasingly popular in many types of adult and childhood cancers 17-19. The reason being the activated immune cells can only find the cancer cells from their hiding places in the body to kill them which is difficult to chemotherapy or radiation like treatment.

This treatment can be given orally, through injection or topical based on the type of cancer and it can be done in normal clinical setup without any specific need 16,20-22. However, this treatment has some side effect which includes flue like symptoms, pain, swelling, rash, redness, itchiness etc.

The success of this treatment is highly variable from patient to patient depends on their immune response to this treatment 23. Therefore, this treatment has not been proposed for all types of cancer.  Most of the patients get this kind of treatment based on doctor’s recommendation depending on their immune condition 24. To know more about this treatment please refer to our website where more articles and necessary direction for getting similar kind of treatment can be found.


Author:  dr. Upal Roy


1. Argilés JM, Azcón-Bieto J. The metabolic environment of cancer. Mol Cell Biochem. 1988 May;81(1):3-17. Review. PubMed PMID: 3050448.

2. de Andrade KC, Mirabello L, Stewart DR, Karlins E, Koster R, Wang M, Gapstur SM, Gaudet MM, Freedman ND, Landi MT, Lemonnier N, Hainaut P, Savage SA, Achatz MI. Higher-than-expected population prevalence of potentially pathogenic germline TP53 variants in individuals unselected for cancer history. Hum Mutat. 2017 Sep 1. doi: 10.1002/humu.23320. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28861920.

3. Masamune A, Kikuta K, Hamada S, Nakano E, Kume K, Inui A, Shimizu T, Takeyama Y, Nio M, Shimosegawa T. Nationwide survey of hereditary pancreatitis in Japan. J Gastroenterol. 2017 Aug 31. doi: 10.1007/s00535-017-1388-0. PubMed PMID: 28861620.

4. Soto D, Song C, McLaughlin-Drubin ME. Epigenetic Alterations in Human
Papillomavirus-Associated Cancers. Viruses. 2017 Sep 1;9(9). pii: E248. doi:10.3390/v9090248. Review. PubMed PMID: 28862667.

5. Biemar F, Foti M. Global progress against cancer—challenges and opportunities. Cancer Biology & Medicine. 2013;10(4):183-186. doi:10.7497/j.issn.2095-3941.2013.04.001.

6. In silico identification of anti-cancer compounds and plants from traditional Chinese medicine database Shao-Xing Dai, Wen-Xing Li, Fei-Fei Han, Yi-Cheng Guo, Jun-Juan Zheng, Jia-Qian Liu, Qian Wang, Yue-Dong Gao, Gong-Hua Li, Jing-Fei Huang Sci Rep. 2016; 6: 25462.PMCID: PMC4857115

7. Potential Compounds for Oral Cancer Treatment: Resveratrol, Nimbolide, Lovastatin, Bortezomib, Vorinostat, Berberine, Pterostilbene, Deguelin, Andrographolide, and Colchicine Saurabh Bundela, Anjana Sharma, Prakash S. Bisen PLoS One. 2015; 10(11): e0141719.PMCID: PMC4633227

8. Natural Compounds' Activity against Cancer Stem-Like or Fast-Cycling Melanoma Cells Malgorzata Sztiller-Sikorska, Kamila Koprowska, Kinga Majchrzak, Mariusz Hartman, Malgorzata Czyz PLoS One. 2014; 9(3): e90783.PMCID: PMC3940936

9. Streptococcus gallolyticus subsp. gallolyticus promotes colorectal tumor development Ritesh Kumar, Jennifer L. Herold, Deborah Schady, Jennifer Davis, Scott Kopetz, Margarita Martinez-Moczygemba, Barbara E. Murray, Fang Han, Yu Li, Evelyn Callaway, Robert S. Chapkin, Wan-Mohaiza Dashwood, Roderick H. Dashwood, Tia Berry, Chris Mackenzie, Yi Xu.PLoS Pathog. 2017 Jul; 13(7): e1006440.  Published online 2017 Jul 13. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006440PMCID: PMC5509344

10. Bacterial oncogenesis in the colon Christine Dejea, Elizabeth Wick, Cynthia L Sears Future Microbiol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 Jun 11.Published in final edited form as: Future Microbiol. 2013 Apr; 8(4): 445–460.  doi: 10.2217/fmb.13.17 PMCID: PMC4052711

11. Li X, Yang G, Li X, et al. Traditional Chinese Medicine in Cancer Care: A Review of Controlled Clinical Studies Published in Chinese. El-Rifai W, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(4):e60338. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060338.

12. Wong KL, Wong RNS, Zhang L, et al. Bioactive proteins and peptides isolated from Chinese medicines with pharmaceutical potential. Chinese Medicine. 2014;9:19. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-9-19.

13. Chen X, Deng L, Jiang X, Wu T. Chinese herbal medicine for oesophageal cancer.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Jan 22;(1):CD004520. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004520.pub7. Review. PubMed PMID: 26799001.

14. Relationship between Chinese medicine dietary patterns and the incidence of breast cancer in Chinese women in Hong Kong: a retrospective cross-sectional survey Xiao Zheng, Jianping Chen, Ting Xie, Zhiyu Xia, Wings Tjing Yung Loo, Lixing Lao, JieShu You, Jie Yang, Kamchuen Tsui, Feizhi Mo, Fei Gao Chin Med. 2017; 12: 17.  Published online 2017 Jun 29. PMCID: PMC5492296

15. Cancer patients' attitudes towards Chinese medicine: a Hong Kong survey Yuen-chi Lam, Chung-wah Cheng, Heng Peng, Chun-key Law, Xianzhang Huang, Zhaoxiang Bian Chin Med. 2009; 4: 25.  doi: 10.1186/1749-8546-4-25 PMCID: PMC2805668



18. New clinical advances in immunotherapy for the treatment of solid tumours Valentina A Zavala, Alexis M Kalergis Immunology. 2015 Jun; 145(2): 182–201.  Published online 2015 Mar 30. doi: 10.1111/imm.12459 PMCID: PMC4427384

19. Chemokines, costimulatory molecules and fusion proteins for the immunotherapy of solid tumors Melissa G Lechner, Sarah M Russell, Rikki S Bass, Alan L Epstein Immunotherapy. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 Sep 1.Published in final edited form as: Immunotherapy. 2011 Nov; 3(11): 1317–1340. doi: 10.2217/imt.11.115 PMCID: PMC3226699 Immunotherapy of Cancer in 2012

20. John M. Kirkwood, Lisa H. Butterfield, Ahmad A. Tarhini, Hassane Zarour, Pawel Kalinski, Soldano Ferrone CA Cancer J Clin. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Sep 1.Published in final edited form as: CA Cancer J Clin. 2012 Sep; 62(5): 309–335. Published online 2012 May 10.  doi: 10.3322/caac.20132 PMCID: PMC3445708

21. SITC/iSBTc Cancer Immunotherapy Biomarkers Resource Document: Online resources and useful tools - a compass in the land of biomarker discovery Davide Bedognetti, James M Balwit, Ena Wang, Mary L Disis, Cedrik M Britten, Lucia G Delogu, Sara Tomei, Bernard A Fox, Thomas F Gajewski, Francesco M Marincola, Lisa H Butterfield J Transl Med. 2011; 9: 155.  doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-9-155 PMCID: PMC3189883

22. Current advances in T-cell-based cancer immunotherapy Mingjun Wang, Bingnan Yin, Helen Y Wang, Rong-Fu Wang. Immunotherapy. 2014; 6(12): 1265–1278.  doi: 10.2217/imt.14.86 PMCID: PMC4372895


24. BA, Schendel DJ, Butterfield LH, et al. Defining the critical hurdles in cancer immunotherapy. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2011;9:214. doi:10.1186/1479-5876-9-214.

Topics: cancer

Dr. Upal Roy

Written by Dr. Upal Roy

Upal Roy is a part time faculty at James Madison University, Virginia USA, and an entrepreneur. He has obtained his Ph.D. in Microbiology and has been doing research on infectious diseases and drug discovery for last twelve years. His research has shown how drug formulation can be improved to be more sustained and therapeutically effective than the conventional drug that are available in the market.