Furthermore, cancers (like infections and injuries) are frequently characterized by inflammation in the surrounding tissue. Along with this inflammation, new blood vessels grow. These new blood vessels, which would normally hasten healing in the case of a traumatic injury, instead promote the growth of the tumor by providing it with more nutrients.
Recently it has been found that our immune system’s responses to cancer may be more flexible than previously believed. Immune reactions can operate in at least two modes: one being pro-inflammatory and cancer enhancing, the other being anti-inflammatory and tumor repressing. Thus research is now being aimed at finding ways to re-program our immune system’s response to malignancies and foster its known ability to promote the tumor’s regression and removal, just as Dr. Coley’s bacterial mixture did when it occasionally benefitted a patient. Success is this pursuit may have many benefits in addition to the treatment of cancer.
Other difficult-to-treat illnesses involving an out-of-control immune system include rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. These latter scourges are all characterized by an immune system that is causing damage rather than promoting healing. Many of these medical conditions may be more successfully treated when we learn how to control the nature of our immune responses.
Questions and suggestions from readers are welcomed and will be responded to in future editions of this column. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.