Allergies may help fight brain tumours

Something different in the way the immune system of those with allergies work means that they are less likely to develop gliomas (tumours), and if they do develop gliomas they will survive for longer, than those without allergies.

Levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) are higher in those with allergies, and there is something in the immune system of those people that either prevents cancer from growing or fighting it when it has grown.

The study, carried out by Brown University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, US and Imperial College in London, used new methodology derived from questions raised by past studies that have reported similar associations between IgE and tumour growth. Instead of asking those with brain tumours to give detailed allergy histories or take tests, the researchers used the data from the records of tens of thousands of people who had participated in four studies: the Physician’s Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, the Women’s Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

This gave the researchers the chance to look at total IgE levels before brain tumours are diagnosed, before the IgE levels may be affected by brain tumour treatments and the disease itself. This meant that of all the participants, the sample who actually developed brain tumours was only 169, and these were compared with 520 healthy controls. Because of the small numbers, the results were blunted, meaning further studies need to be carried out. They found that those with borderline IgE levels had a significantly reduced risk of glioma, but those with higher levels of IgE did not share this same reduced risk.

Study author Dominique Michaud says that the research may prove useful for cancer researchers who can focus on the underlying biological mechanisms, and get a better understanding of cancer and how to treat it.

Source: Brown University

First published in October 2011

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