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How allergies might thwart brain cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Allergy and lower cancer risk supported in new study.

Allergies are generally considered a plague by anyone who suffers from sneezing, itching, rash, stuffy nose or other symptoms. But new research shows they might actually be good for health. Something about having antibodies and a robust immune response lowers the risk of glioma, a type cancerous tumor that attacks the spinal cord and brain. Past studies have shown allergies seem to lower the risk of other types of cancer as well.

Study reinforces allergy link and lower cancer risk

The researchers for the study looked at blood samples from patients taken years before they were diagnosed with glioma.

The finding reinforced the belief from scientists that something about having allergies can stop glioma from growing. The cancer is known to interfere with the body’s immune response which can make tumors grow.

The blood sample results showed people who had allergy-related antibodies were almost 50 percent less likely to develop glioma 20 years later compared to people without signs of allergies.

Judith Schwartzbaum, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study says the finding is important.

“The longer before glioma diagnosis that the effect of allergies is present, the less likely it is that the tumor is suppressing allergies. Seeing this association so long before tumor diagnosis suggests that antibodies or some aspect of allergy is reducing tumor risk.”

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Schwartzbaum explains in a media release that absence of allergies has been shown to be one of the biggest risk factors for developing the deadly type of brain cancer. Researchers don’t completely understand why. She says, “It could be that in allergic people, higher levels of circulating antibodies may stimulate the immune system, and that could lower the risk of glioma.”

Another finding from the study was that women with allergies had a 50% lower risk of glioblastoma, which is the most common and serious type of brain cancer and the type that killed Senator Ted Kennedy. Men who had antibodies in the blood from allergy had a 20% lower risk of glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma affects 3 in 100,000 people in the United States. Just one-quarter of patients survive the cancer up to two years and only 10 percent survive 5 years even with aggressive treatment.

Past studies have shown that people who had skin allergies might have protection against breast, bladder and skin cancer. The finding was published July, 2011 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The newest finding suggests allergies play a role in preventing glioma brain tumors. Sniffing, sneezing, wheezing and itching might be good for our health. The finding strengthens scientists’ belief that people with a robust immune response that leads to allergies have a lower risk of cancer.

The Ohio State University

“Association between cancer and contact allergy: a linkage study”
July 11, 2011
Kaare Engkilde, et al

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