surviveCANCER Foundation   Home Mail Search  
.: health

.: health.immune system

Discuss this page!

The Basics of Immune System Function 
Cancer and the Immune System
Your Mental State Affects Your Immune System

I am not writing this as a medical practitioner, dietitian, or nutritionist. I am a cancer victim. I have done a lot of investigation since I was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer. The things presented here the result of that effort. It is intended solely as a starting place for you for your own research. It is in no way a substitute for proper medical advise. It is merely presented so you can have a rudimentary understanding of what is happening inside your body. It is frightening. It is nasty. It is deadly! And, the better informed you are, the more likely you will be able to make the correct choices concerning your life.

I will make this statement over and over and over again as you read through this website and any related literature that I generate. Do not expect to cure cancer—you are stuck with it as long as you live. Put it in remission and keep it there, but regardless of what you ultimately choose to do about it, never, never expect it to be gone for good.

In order to understand what cancer is and how it works inside your body, it is necessary to understand the basics of your immune system. It is also important to know the fundamentals about the cells that make up all your body parts. It is the interrelationship of your cell makeup that determines how your immune system will react inside your body and naturally fight disease.

The Basics of Immune System Function
Lets begin with a simple discussion of how the immune system works. In a very general sense, the immune system is our first line of defense against microbial attack. Everything and anything you can think of falls into this category; colds, flue, HIV, diarrhea, arthritis, strep infections, staff infections, cancer, etc… How well we can fight off these assaults on our general health is determined first and foremost by the condition of our immune system. God gave us a wonderful thing in the design of our natural immunity network. If in the course of time we come across a microbe that is foreign to our bodies and is intent on doing harm, the first response of our immune system is to “learn” ways to fight them. This is referred to as an adaptive or acquired response. If our immune system is strong enough, the innate or natural ability of the immune response will destroy the microbe and no further outside help is required.

Whenever your body is exposed to an infectious microbe, your immune system tries to identify it and then proceeds to destroy it, if your immune system sufficiently strong. The normal process runs between 7 and 14 days. (Example: A typical cold seems to hang around about a week.) Once our bodies have successfully dealt with an infection, our immune systems retain a memory of the event so that if necessary to fight the battle again, the knowledge is already there. Most of the time, we never even realize we have been re-exposed to the same microbial invader as our bodies are very efficient in dealing with the attack. Innate immunity will always work faster to fight infections than acquired immunity. In computer terms, innate response is stored in RAM and acquired response is stored on the hard drive. Once the acquired response is called into play, it can be very efficient. It just does not automatically happen.

Where the problems come is when our immune systems are either not strong enough or unable to “learn” what is needed to attack the incoming microbial assault. Again, this part of the discussion is generic to all forms of disease, not just cancer. Everything that is harmful to the body is treated by the immune system in the same basic way.
Perhaps in your research up to this point or from school biology classes you have come across the terms “T cells”, “B cells”, “interferons”, “killer cells”, “cytokines”, “dendritic cells”, “macrophages”, and “enzymes”. These are all part of our immune system. A generalized breakdown of the cell types: B cells are white blood cells made by your bone marrow that are capable of storing immunological information. T cells are the normal antibodies, interferons are antiviral, killer cells are the attackers put out by the immune system to fight the infection, enzymes are common throughout the body doing many things including digestion of food. Cytokines are very important.

Throughout the entire immune response phase of disease fighting, they send messages, regulate immune system cell growth types and rates, and work with both innate and acquired systems. Dendritic cells are designed to locate foreign antigens and start the immune system producing antibodies. Macrophages remind me of “Pac Man”. They attack dead or damaged cells and break them down to be flushed from the body.

Your innate immunity system functions somewhat differently than your acquired immunity system. With the “built in” or innate, you do not need prior exposure to the disease to know it does not belong. These are the “generic” fighters. They work uniformly against any basic disease pattern that the body is designed to fight. It does not need a repeated exposure and more importantly repeated exposure does not change how it responds. This part of your immune system has natural killer cells and natural antibodies to fight disease.

Learned or acquired immunity differs in that it first requires exposure to some form of disease. It then must learn the disease that is not intuitively known to the body. Therefore, an acquired immunity is specific only to one specific disease. It does retain a permanent memory of the encounter using B cells and fights them with the specifically designed T cells each time the body is specifically exposed.

Antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins) are a form of protein molecule that is produced by your B cells. These proteins are able to attach themselves to markers on diseased cells. Your body constantly has a supply of natural antibodies available 24-7-365 to fight disease. (They are always present) Their primary purpose is to identify dangerous microbes and “tag” them (attach a chemical type marker to the cell so that the immune system knows what it should be fighting). At this point, the body will call in the additional re-enforcements of the acquired immune system if necessary to deal with the threat. The natural killer cells are your first defense against cancer. This is an automatic response by your body. The intensity of the response by the innate system does not change by repeated exposure. It does rely upon the use of the acquired immune system to fight diseases, especially in the case of mutations such as can readily occur with cancer.

Unfortunately, many things work against our bodies for maintaining high levels of antibodies and the other immune system cells. Age is a big factor. The older you get, the fewer of these cells are produced. The thymus plays an active roll in creating “good” cells. In addition, stress is a big, big factor in how well your body can fight disease. Prolonged stress whether due to injury or even mental anguish can have a dramatic effect on how well your body can fight off diseases. This is why cancers frequently grow at faster rates in people under high stress situations. Another major factor for some people is a condition known as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. CFIDS is virtually always found in cases where there is consistently low natural killer cell activity. This becomes very important when looking at the correlation between natural killer cells and the ability of your body to fend off protozoan parasites that can be linked to cancer.
Another factor that enters into how the immune system works is known as the compliment system. Part of this function is the tagging or identification process of labeling malignant (or diseased) cells. This is also part of the innate immune system. This system provides 3 basic functions for initial antimicrobial activity.
First, the system locates and tags infected cells that need to be destroyed. This can also include damaged or dead cells. Next, it then sends out a chemical message to the immune system to tell it where the “bad” cells are located in the body. Finally, it attacks the membrane surrounding the “bad” cell to pierce it and allow water in that will explode the cell and break it down. All cell membranes in all animals are made of two distinct layers of lipid or fat cells. Under a microscope, cells look like a bubble of water surrounded by a wall of fat.

A quick recap here. Our first line of defense is the innate response. It is always on guard and deals with most common forms of disease that attack our bodies. The compliment system is, for lack of a better description, the junction point at which the innate system calls for help from the acquired immune system. The acquired immune system is a learned response that our bodies have in the fight against all forms of specific diseases. This specific learned response is a very focused, targeted attack against individual pathogens.

Cancer and the Immune System
A major problem with cancer from an immune system standpoint is regardless of the initial cause of cancer cells, they all have in common the ability to protect their very fragile modified DNA identity with a number of special camouflage techniques. Many forms of cancer can create extra cell markers that are routinely shed into the blood stream. This “sloughing off” activity is able to successfully hide the cancer cell as the immune system is busy chasing non- entities. Another technique of pathogens is to continuously change the surface antigens. This process is known as antigenic drift. By doing this, it seems to make the cancer cell invisible to the immune system.
Because cancer cells are derived from your own cell structure throughout the body, the immune detection process has a very difficult time distinguishing “good body cells” from those with the extra cancer markers. Under normal circumstances, these extra markers present in cancer cells will trigger the Cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL’s) to attach to the cell and destroy it. However, if your immune system is slow to respond, the cancer cells will have the opportunity to multiply. If too much time passes, the situation gets out of control.

To add to the problem, some cancer cells are able to mutate to yet another state and not produce the cancer markers. Under optimal circumstances, this is the point at which the natural killer cells of your immune system should take over and attack the “not right” normally marked cell. Many times though, these extra antibodies released to fight the cancer are ineffective and the tumor continues to grow.
Even if the weak antibody response occurs and does not deter the tumor growth, the immune system should kick in at this point with the compliment system. The Membrane Attack Complex (MAC) now released against the tumor can also have problems in that many times the normal proteins (lipids) surrounding the cells resist the MAC if its formation is slow to begin.

A few other random things here about cancer cells and the immune system in general…
All forms of cancer are the result of some form of damage that has occurred to the DNA in a cell or group of cells. Every cell in the body is capable of sustaining damage that can lead to cancer. There are a growing number of scientists today that believe most, if not all cancers are linked to some type of parasitic growth that attacks the DNA.

Cancer cells, for all intent and purpose are immortal. Once a tumor begins to grow, the cancer cells will not naturally die. They can be killed by your immune system, by radiation, by chemotherapy, by a lack of blood flow to nourish them, and by other supplements and nutrients. Yet, they will not just age and die like other cells in your body. Unless something specifically attacks them, they will continue to grow and reproduce until the host (your body) dies.
Cancer is helped along its deadly course by a weak immune system as briefly discussed above. Cancer is also helped by bad eating habits. But, unless you are specifically eating mass quantities of carcinogenic food stuffs, you will not get cancer from what you eat. You will, however, help cancer grow and sustain itself by eating the wrong foods or combination of foods.

Genetics can play a part in your susceptibility, but almost no one has ever directly inherited cancer. Statistically it is a ten million to 1 shot that it would happen to you. You stand a much, much bigger chance of drowning in your bath tub than being victim of an inherited cancer. Another factor, such as most probably in my case, has to deal with environmental conditions and exposure to toxic substances that attack the body. 

Tumors will attract new blood vessels to themselves. The easiest way to picture these in your mind is to think of a jelly fish with its tentacles hanging down. That’s what a tumor looks like with its extra blood vessels attached. The process of growing these new vessels is known as angiogenesis. These extra vessels are necessary in order to feed the cancer cells’ voracious appetites. This is why, for instance, in kidney cancer they might place a special form of sponge in the artery (a procedure known as angioinfarction or emobilyation) to stop blood flow to the kidney and starve the cells by cutting off the blood supply. Cancer cells are anaerobic. They do not like oxygen. Otto Warburg won a Nobel prize for proving this fact more than 50 years ago. Therefore, a good thing to keep in mind is that aerobic exercise increases oxygen in the blood to all cells. The heart is a good example of this fact. There is no other muscle in your body that works harder and is more oxygenated than your heart. There is no such thing as “cancer of the heart.” Your heart can fail from many, many other causes, but it will never suffer from cancer.

Cancer loves an acidic condition in your body. If your body continually runs acid rather an alkaline on both saliva and urine tests, you have established a wonderful medium for the care and feeding of any form of cancer cell.

Your Mental State Affects Your Immune System
We are going to sneak in a few words here that tie directly to your mental state. Are you aware of how your emotions effect your immune system? Do you realize that your immune system releases endorphins and hormones that make your body feel good when you laugh? Laughter can be absolutely great medicine.

In the opposite way, fear and anxiety can suppress the immune system and make you even more vulnerable to disease. It does not matter the source of those anxieties. They simply need to be present. So, be positive. Be cheerful. That is a freebie that you can do for yourself any time, all the time and it will do more good than many things you will try.

More than anything, anxiety can be so disruptive to your life, you can literally strip yourself of any fun that you might have. If the cancer controls every aspect of your life, your lifestyle will suffer greatly. Enjoy as much as you can and dwell on the good and positive things. These instances will help you through the rough times.

In the Reference Materials section of this website, you will find a number of sources where you can learn more in depth about your immune system and fighting cancer.


NOTICE: Under no circumstance is there any claim of any kind being made or implied that what I have chosen to do for myself has any merit to anyone other than me. This website or any printed matter I generate as a result of this website is not to be intended or in any way considered a substitute for the services of a medical professional. I am not to be considered in any way responsible for any consequences incurred by those who choose to employ the remedies or treatments I have reported. I make no claim that cancer is curable, least of all by me. I make no claim as to being able to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any disease or infirmity of any type. It is strongly recommended and encouraged that everyone visiting this sight devote time to researching all possible treatment options that make sense to them and that they avail themselves of the expertise of those who are experienced in the treatment and “cure” of cancer; and that they seek whatever additional help and support their conditions warrant.